Here at The Manufacturer, we are passionate about apprenticeships, a core part of the UK manufacturing industry that create benefits for individuals, organisations, and the economy alike. That's why we're championing everything manufacturing-related this International Women's Day and are bringing you the profile of a first-year apprentice with Make UK working for Seco Tools in Redditch.
As well as being a woman in engineering, Aisha Mustafa plays football in her spare time and does youth work, breaking gender stereotypes and helping to inspire the next generation of engineers.
What first inspired you to go into the engineering/manufacturing industry?
During school and college, I wasn’t sure what pathway I wanted to go down. Young people are heavily encouraged to do the science part of STEM, so I ended up doing that for a while. It was then that I realised I really enjoyed architecture, engineering, designing buildings and figuring out how things work and how they are made. It was almost like figuring out what I didn’t want to do, helped me find what I really have a passion for.
What made you go down the apprenticeship route?
Apprenticeships are great for gaining experience and getting hands on, enabling you to get all the practical skills as well as the knowledge, whereas university is a lot more theoretical, and I found that I learned a lot more by doing practical work. Obviously, there are bonuses to it as well… like getting paid while you’re learning!
I also really love how apprenticeships mean you can work your way up in a company. Once you find yourself in a place, there’s constant progression and that’s what’s great about where I’m working at the moment. Seco Tools have made it very clear to me that there’s plenty of routes that I can go down which makes me really excited for my future.
How do you find the balance with working full-time and studying? Do you feel supported by your employer?
I get a lot of support from Seco Tools, as well as Make UK which is where I’m doing my first year of training. They give us apprentices a lot of time where we can get our practical work done, as well as learning theoretical elements. We have a day dedicated to our BTEC assignments, where we focus on our theoretical elements and gaining full understanding of everything that’s written, as well as doing the practical work.
We are also given some time to ‘self-study’ which means we can get our heads down, focus on our own work, as well as having the time to catch up on anything that we may be slightly behind on.
What does a day in your role typically look like?
I work five days a week, where we dedicate three and a half days to practical work and then we’ve got one whole day to complete any BTEC assignments we may have. We regularly switch between different activities. For example, I’ve done lean manufacturing, welding, milling, and turning so far and I recently had the opportunity to work on a 3D printing CAD project where I designed a table topper. It was satisfying to print my own design and hold it in my hand as a real-life product.
I really enjoy the practical element of engineering, exploring different techniques like milling, turning and welding. At my company, I’ve had the opportunity to make tools to customers’ specifications, trialling different materials and machines to create something that meets their needs.
The apprenticeship is broken into blocks that help us move forward and give all the training and the skills required, so we can then take them back to our company and apply what we’ve learnt. The aim is to understand how we can improve operations and add value to the company with the work that we do.
What advice would you give to other young people, particularly young women, looking to enter the sector?
Engineering and manufacturing are very male dominated sectors, but I don’t think that should be something to put women off. If anything, it should be more motivational to try and get into this sector, to prove that engineering is just as much for girls as it is for guys!
Engineering is for anyone – it’s just something you have a passion for, regardless of who you are, where you come from, and what you like, it brings people together.
I don’t want young women to be put off by the fact that it is a male dominated sector. My biggest piece of advice would be, if it’s something you have a passion for, just go for it, regardless of what others might think.
Manufacturing/engineering have a certain perception among some young people (i.e., dirty, oily rag crafts). What would you say to anyone who held that view?
It’s not just about getting your hands dirty – it is hands on, but you aren’t going to be covered in oil or anything like that. There are loads of different areas you can go into, for example, I really enjoy the design element, which is all computer-based.
We always wear protective gear for practical work, so we never even get dirty! It’s definitely not as dirty as people think, perhaps if you’re working on cars it might be a bit more messy, but it’s up to individuals to choose what type of engineering they go into.
Do we need more role models to attract more young people into the sector?
Definitely, because there’s not as many women in this sector as there should be, so it’s really important that we have women in engineering and manufacturing roles to show other women that they can get into this field. Having role models is really important because they can make you feel really motivated!
While it can be hard to live up to, I try to be a role model to help more young girls consider engineering careers, by attending events and explaining what engineering is about. I also share the benefits of apprenticeships as I know lot of young people are pushed towards the university route, when it might not be right for them. Hopefully I can make a difference to other young people’s lives.
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