Destined to be an engineer

Ayrshire College graduate Yvonne Neil explains how she became Chief Design Engineer at BAE Systems.

What sparked your interest in engineering?

I went to Auchinleck Academy where my favourite subjects were Science, Maths and Art so my career plan early on was to do architecture or interior design. In fourth year at school I joined 30 other girls across Scotland to experience a week learning about engineering. As part of this, I got a work placement in Ravenscraig steel works and a site visit to Rolls Royce. This experience changed my mind and I knew then that engineering was going to be my career.

Tell us about your apprenticeship and the qualifications you achieved

I attended a careers convention in Cumnock at which BAE Systems was looking for apprentices. Of the 37 selected I was the only girl but that didn’t phase me at all. I left school at 16 and eagerly looked forward to my new job where I would be earning and learning at the same time!

In our first year we all went to an in-house training school where we gained experience in a wide range of skills like electrical, sheet metal working, detail fitting and machining. At the end of the year we were asked which trade we preferred and I chose to become an aircraft electrician.

I attended what is now the Ayr campus of Ayrshire College on a day release basis to complete an ONC Electrical and Electronic Engineering. It was great being able to work and learn right here in Ayrshire. I moved to what is now the Kilmarnock campus to study my HNC qualification. In the workplace I gained experience in electrical loom formation and panel assembly, which led to the installation on aircraft and connecting all the major electrical and avionic components.

During my apprenticeship I had a placement in the design office and worked from initial aircraft design concepts to final design, manufacturing and installation support. I really enjoyed this experience and it led to me being offered a position as a trainee design engineer. From the start it was a well paid job and, by the time I was just 19 years old, I could afford to buy my own house and be financially independent!

How has your career developed?

Over the last 20 years I have progressed up the career ladder to design engineer, senior design engineer, principal design engineer, project design engineer, deputy chief design engineer to my current role as chief design engineer.

I’m now responsible for the capability of the design team, training and development, governance and technical leadership on programmes of work. The best part of my job is resolving the technical complexities of aircraft design. I also like working with different people across the organisation.

What would you say to young women thinking about choosing a career in engineering?

It’s a really exciting job where you learn something new every day. I’ve had lots of opportunities to travel the world throughout my career. Women are more than capable of working in this male-dominated industry and I’ve always found my male colleagues to be supportive and respectful. I have never felt that being a woman has disadvantaged me or held me back as I’ve developed over the last 25 years.

Ayrshire College Ambassador, Yvonne Neil



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