Talent 2030

Philippa Riddoch, IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year finalist

As an apprentice Philippa helped achieve a Guinness World Record. She currently works on the Joint Strike Fighter F-35 Lightning II aircraft, promotes women in engineering and has even represented Great Britain at ice hockey.

Philippa, 25, a manufacturing engineer at BAE Systems, was an Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) 2012 Young Woman Engineer of the Year award finalist.

Currently working as an improvement engineer on the F-35 Lightning II aircraft, Philippa’s career at BAE Systems began as an apprentice back in 2005.

“Although I’d grown up around engineering it never really occurred to me that it could be a career option, so I went through school choosing subjects I found interesting; maths, science, electronics,” she says. “As I was coming to the end of my AS levels I was told it was time to think about applying to university and I knew a full-time degree wasn’t for me. I prefer being hands-on, and as I was coming up to 18 I wanted to go out into the real world.”

“With my dad working here, I already knew about BAE Systems’ apprentice scheme. I looked into it further and saw that it was ideal for me. I applied, and here I am!”

One of her proudest career achievements so far was, as an apprentice, being appointed project manager on the FLAVIIR project; a £6.2m research programme looking at future technologies for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). She was personally responsible for a £20,000 manufacturing budget and management of eight other apprentices, as well as coordinating the manufacture and assembly of the Demon UAV with several universities including Cranfield.

“It was quite surreal to be chosen,” she explains. “BAE Systems was collaborating with a lot of universities on the building of the UAV. It was new technology designed by the universities and built by BAE apprentices. They needed an apprentice to run the project and I was asked – I took the opportunity with both hands!”

For the next two years, until the end of her apprenticeship, Philippa was in charge of the manufacture of certain parts of the aircraft and its final assembly. At first she found the experience daunting, but really rose to the challenge and is hugely proud of the final result.

“We’ve got the Guinness World Record for the first flight using no conventional control surfaces,” she enthuses. “That was a brand new technology, and something I never thought I’d have the opportunity to be involved in.

[I’m very proud of] the first flight of the UAV, especially after all the blood, sweat and tears that went into the years working on it. It is very rare to be part of a project from initial concept right through to the final flight, so I’m very proud of that.”

Now a manufacturing engineer working on the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) F-35 Lightning II aircraft, Philippa’s role is that of an improvement engineer. This involves looking at issues, problems or defects that may occur during the production process and implement correction actions to resolve them.

“I’ve had several different roles under the title of manufacturing engineer for the JSF team. What I’m doing at the moment is corrective action,” she explains. “Again it’s quite a lot of responsibility. I investigate any issues that come up, find out what’s causing the problem and put things into place to stop it happening again.”

“I’m also proud that I’ve been offered a new role within the team, working with one of our partner companies in Canada. It’s a continuation of the corrective actions work, but involving new responsibilities and challenges,” she enthuses.

Recently Philippa has begun working as a science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) ambassador by getting involved in the Talent 2030 campaign, which aims to encourage more young people to consider a career in engineering.

“I was asked to be a representative, and I’ve attended meetings and network sessions where I talk about engineering and my own experiences,” she says.

Reaching the final of the IET’s 2012 Young Woman Engineer of the Year award can only support this work, and although she says it still feels odd to be considered a role model, she does enjoy being able to provide advice to others.

“It’s definitely a prestigious thing to be involved with and I was chuffed to bits to get through to the final. It’s really boosted my confidence,” she says.

“[Being considered a role model] is taking a bit of getting used to, and it’s weird seeing my face in The Guardian or hearing myself on Radio 4, but I find myself naturally providing people with advice”.

“I wish I’d had someone to ask when I was trying to decide what to do, I was pretty much left to my own devices and forged my own way. It’s good to give something back and show people there are many different routes into engineering,” she notes.

But Philippa’s passions go beyond engineering; she’s also flying the flag for women in sport, specifically ice hockey.

“Ice hockey was something I wanted to do since childhood but it’s quite an expensive sport because of the kit and ice time,” she explains. “So as soon as I got my job and became self-sufficient, I got in touch with my local team and said I wanted to start playing.”

Although she only began playing at 19, Philippa has already represented England and Great Britain and travelled to Turkey and Canada to play.

“I believe if you want something bad enough you train and work hard to get there. I’ll admit the England call up was a bit of a shock, but it’s been a brilliant experience so far. It’s all about getting British female hockey noticed,” she continues. “[Playing in international tournaments] is really good for the development of the sport.”

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