Meet Georgina Cox, MEP assistant at Mace
Recent research by *WISE indicates that the UK is set to reach its goal of 1M women working in core STEM occupations in 2020. With the growing trend for more women than ever before working as professional engineers, we’re delighted to interview Georgina Cox, mechanical, electrical and public health (MEP) assistant at Mace, and learn more about her chosen career, as well as her opinion about today’s construction industry.
What attracted you to a career in engineering?
From completing my first year at university studying engineering with design, it made me realise my interest was more in engineering specifically with some design incorporated but less of a focalised aspect of it. With this, I sought out to find whether my interest in electrical and mechanical engineering could ever be combined into one role. This is where I came across Mace who I had a bit of familiarity with after their works on the 2012 Olympic Stadium. The job description as an apprentice MEP Manager fitted my idea perfectly and as a result, I applied and after a few interviews received the position!
Your specific interest is in mechanical and electrical engineering. Is your apprenticeship combined with your university course successfully taking you on your desired career path?
I am currently studying my building services engineering degree at London South Bank University. Starting my degree two years into my career has actually been useful as I have been able to have an understanding of the industry first from a practical perspective before going on to a degree. Of course, the workload is heavier than any typical university student, with some responsibility in my role, but being strict with my organisation has allowed me to balance the two. I have a lot of experienced people surrounding me as well as from previous projects and I never hesitate to ask any questions to aid elements of my course. Successfully getting my degree, followed by hopefully becoming a chartered member of CIBSE I feel like I am leading a good career path with a lot of benefits throughout!
When you took the leap to apply to Mace, what did your contemporaries think?
As an overview they were taken aback with me being female, going into construction and leaving university to pursue this career but understood it was a sensible move to make. After a few weeks of me telling them about my experience they had a lot of confidence in what I was doing and where I was going - two years later I haven’t proved them wrong. I am in denial that they are bored of me mentioning services and construction but there’s always something new to talk about!
In light of **campaigns for improved diversity in science, technology and engineering (STEM), have you found that as a female your career choice has been more accessible than it may have been, say five years ago?
I am not naïve to the idea I am a real minority in this industry and considering a career within construction, naturally would not entice many females. However, I found that with a bit more research the promotion of women in construction is thought of so highly it gave me the encouragement that this would be a brilliant career path that is changing and adapting to the world we live in today! From some of the stories I’ve heard of how women were treated, I personally find it quite clear to see that women are a lot more respected today due to the positive impact we have made to the industry, broadening new and fresh ideas.
Highly Commended winner of the Mace Apprentice Awards 2017 and Apprentice of the Year 2018, you have clearly achieved a great deal during your apprenticeship, what would your advice be to future aspiring engineers?
Engineering is such a broad field that I can say reading about alone, gives you barely half of the picture. When you get to experience it for yourself it is a whole different world that has so many avenues and paths that you could take. So many companies have amazing apprenticeship schemes which I think is really good to consider as I have done so many things and met so many people that I would have never experienced if I had not sought out to research and get the physical experience. Starting as early as possible simply means there is so much more time to aspire to greater levels!
Describe your first experience visiting a construction site. Was it what you expected?
I did set realistic expectations of a construction site - yes there is mud, dirt, noise and everything you typically imagine a construction site to be - but this is not how it is forever! Seeing it all start from a pit to a completed handover really makes you appreciate every detail. It’s like starting anything new - very overwhelming at first but once you start progressively understanding it all, it becomes second nature.
How do you see the aspects of your specialist area changing with the advent of new materials and/or rapid changes in technology?
Programme is the biggest thing in construction and anything to ensure a build sticks to the baseline without compromising quality is always considered. Prefabrication is really focused on and I feel there are still so many ways we can adapt and improve off-site manufacturing for more efficient install on site. I’ve also seen some really innovative ways CAD is developing which will only improve the future of construction.
What’s the favourite part of your job?
Every day means different challenges and every build means new challenges. I love learning new things from the people around me and working through and solving the challenges faced as a team, makes the outcome so much more beneficial! I like being able to understand the everyday things that you would never think of when walking into any random place. First thing I do when walking into buildings is to look straight up at the services and start working out what systems they have. It sounds funny but I have now become genuinely interested in it all and enjoy forever learning.
How do you think Brexit will impact construction as a whole?
A lot of work and plant, in particular, is sought from Europe as the UK is not the most practical place to set up a factory with the huge square footage you would typically need. This is unlikely to ever change and would still mean sourcing from these European countries but economically, the price of things will be jeopardised. The higher cost I feel will mean focusing more on getting it right the first time and less architectural changes because of this. Could potentially mean the pre-construction process is slightly longer to ensure this and quantity surveyors seeking for the most appropriate manufacturers of plant will take even more refining. In turn, I feel this will, unfortunately, hinder the smaller manufacturers trying to expand as there is less margin for error, so sticking to the known manufacturers will be more likely.
What’s next in terms of career progression and where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
My focus for progression at the moment is around a training plan that Mace has created to ensure I understand all areas of MEP which I have been working on for the past two years and near to completing. I still have three years left of my building services degree which I am doing part-time so will have this running alongside me assisting MEP on projects. Once I achieve my degree and hopefully become chartered, I have an interest in working abroad to get a whole different aspect of construction whilst getting more responsibilities and hopefully making a real impact to the whole industry. I would really like to contribute to guides produced used throughout the MEP industry. I am also sure a lot more females will also be influenced into this industry and would hope to use my experience to encourage as many as possible.
How's your work/life balance?
Taking on a lot more responsibility means my organisation has really taken priority to ensure my work is done at a realistic rate and I still have time to meet up and go out with friends and family mainly on the weekends, but evenings I still tend to work. All my friends are either working or at university and have similar schedules to me so I never feel like I am missing out. I have made a few friends from work so it is good to cross over the work and life balance when meeting up with them, and I also tend to meet up with the old teams I have worked with on other projects for catch ups. I will always ensure to find time to go to the gym as it is my "get away" space. Working now also means I have been able to travel to places I never thought I would at this age, so overall would say I have balanced very well!
Georgina is now MEP Manager Construction, UK at Mace.
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Blog post updated January 2023.