Nikki Cusworth, a quality improvement technician at Rolls-Royce, the global power systems company has won the UK’s Inspirational Technician Award supported by young people’s charity STEMNET and Lord Sainsbury’s Gatsby Foundation.
She received the award for her work mentoring local school girls interested in technical careers, and introducing primary school children to fun engineering related projects and paper bridge-building exercises in the classroom.
“We don’t all wear long white coats and work in labs” says Nikki Cusworth, who insists the traditional view of a STEM technician is a world away from her job as a quality improvement technician at Rolls-Royce in Glasgow.
It’s a role that sees her work across the country, making sure the parts that go into Rolls-Royce’s world-renowned engines are manufactured to the best possible quality.
“The stereotype that many people have is unhelpful for engaging young people and doesn’t even start to reflect the variety of exciting things you can do in this career.”
At school Nikki loved hands-on subjects like metal work but didn’t see a job in it. With plans to leave school at 16 and become a beauty therapist, she was convinced to stay on for another two years by teachers and careers officers. It was during this time that technical careers in engineering were first suggested to her.
Convinced she would take the university route into her new dream job, Nikki reluctantly took one further piece of advice from her teachers and applied for an apprenticeship at Rolls-Royce, the global power systems company. Any initial doubts about which path to take were soon forgotten after she was called for an interview.
“As soon as I walked through the doors and saw the technology and the state of the art machinery, I was blown away. Listening to my teachers was the best decision I ever made.”
Nikki admits she was initially nervous entering a predominantly male environment but describes her workplace as very welcoming and supportive to anyone who demonstrates a passion for what they do and works hard at it.
During her apprenticeship this passion was sparked by one college module in particular, called Quality which looked at ensuring optimum performance of production processes. After a meeting with her Rolls-Royce manager, Nikki changed her development focus after completing her apprenticeship and was offered a job specially created for her within the quality management department, once she had qualified.
“As a technician you are really valued by your employers and fully supported in your development. Rolls-Royce not only gave me that first step on the career ladder but helped me find and specialise in an area that I really love.”
It’s a role that brings her into contact with people from across the company; an aspect of being a technician that she feels is often overlooked.
“I’m not just turning up, changing everything and leaving my colleagues to go with it. You need people skills to help them through that transition, taking people who are struggling with a new system or piece of kit to a point where they have mastered it and can see the benefits your new approach has brought.”
Rolls-Royce are keen for their apprentices to pass on their knowledge and enthusiasm to the next generation and Nikki has taken girls from local high schools on outdoor activity weekend excursion to talk to them being a STEM technician. As a result, she is currently mentoring a young girl who is interested in joining the profession.
Off her own back she has also just completed a project with local primary school children working with them on paper bridge building exercises.
“It’s something the kids and I get a lot out of. If in ten years’ time I see one of them walking through the door at Rolls Royce, it will probably be quite an emotional experience.”