Ayrshire College’s female STEM network – Ayrshire Connects – held its second annual meetup, ‘Girls with Grit’, on 19 June 2017. To continue the theme of the event we will be interviewing a series of ‘girls with grit’ across Ayrshire and beyond.
My name is Sharon Driver, Founder and Director of GSD Project Management Ltd.
My career in manufacturing began way back in 1988 in Irvine, Ayrshire and has taken me all over the world including my favourite job EVER as operations director in an aerospace structures factory in New York.
I come from Kilbirnie in North Ayrshire, and studied at Clydebank College and Glasgow Caledonian University on day release while working full time.
My career path, education and experience ultimately led to developing the skills and experience to set up my own company to do more of what I enjoy most: Strategic Planning, Project Management, Process/Systems Re-engineering, Troubleshooting and generally GSD-ing … Getting Stuff Done!
I started working in manufacturing when I was 19 in Hyster in Irvine – a forklift truck manufacturer. At the time, I didn’t realise it would lead to a long career that I love, but as soon as I saw finished product roll off the end of a production line I was hooked.
There’s a buzz in manufacturing and in process engineering that has stayed with me over the years from my first job as a warranty claim administrator/translator in Hyster in Irvine to being operations director of Triumph Structures Long Island, an aerospace company in New York which manufactures internal structures for commercial and military aeroplanes and helicopters.
After 10 years in Hyster of exciting challenges, skills development and incredibly hard work, I moved onto a whole new set of global opportunities with British Aerospace at Prestwick Airport.
I moved to British Aerospace at a time of significant change in UK manufacturing where operations were being outsourced to low cost suppliers in the USA and mainland Europe. As disappointing as it was to see so much skilled work leave Scotland, this opened up a new opportunity for global travel, not just for senior management but for manufacturing engineers, process engineers, machine operators, treatment operators, painters and inspectors as we passed on invaluable skills to companies all over the world.
My Career Path
I’d like to say I had a vision for my career path but, in reality, my enthusiasm for the industry and the buzz of seeing a finished product take shape resulted in me applying for positions where I could influence processes and systems to improve efficiency and output and to develop myself and the teams that I worked with.
The end to end manufacturing process is fascinating and includes so much more than raw materials and machinery. I was keen to understand as much as I could about the process from design to build to distribution and all the stages in between.
For me, ambition wasn’t my driving force for promotion it was, and still is, influencing systems, processes and conditions for continuous improvement.
College and University
I had considered applying for language and literature degrees at university after my Highers at Garnock Academy in Kilbirnie but didn’t have a clear vision on where that might take me, so I decided to take a year out and get a job instead while I figured it out. That turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.
My hard work and enthusiasm was recognised and Hyster sponsored me through college where I studied Operations Management on day release while working full time as a materials team leader scheduling thousands of individual components from 700 global suppliers.
British Aerospace sponsored me through university where I studied for my Masters in Business Administration which gave me the skills to understand how the whole business works not just the manufacturing element.
The best part of these courses and qualifications for me was being able to integrate what I learned with what I already knew.
This method of applied learning really lends itself to my own style of learning. It’s a great way to build the foundations of your skill set not just on how to apply it but on when to apply it for best benefit!
Although I experienced the gender pay gap early in my career, I’ve never felt disadvantaged from the perspective of capability or opportunity during my career. If you want it, make it happen. The only true limits on a career that meets your capabilities are those you put on yourself.
I started in the industry in 1988 and what is now known as the gender pay gap certainly existed back then along with a perception of traditional gender job roles. Salary structures existed back then which allowed people doing the same role to be paid at different points in the scale which often grew the gap.
So I learned to speak up. I learned to respectfully fight my corner and the corner of others with quantifiable FACTS. Skills, potential and enthusiasm are a powerful combination for any employer and if you can channel all of that into performance against objectives, the statistics speak for themselves.
Career Secrets or Tips?
There are no secrets to my career – it’s counter-productive to keep enthusiasm, hard work and common sense a secret.
I’ve been lucky to stumble into a job that I then turned into a career that I love. The old saying goes “if you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”
Find out more about Ayrshire Connects and how you can be involved here.