Friday, June 19, 2020

Melissa Lee – apprentice welder/fabricator at Premium Fabrications

Melissa is the current BESA Apprentice of the Year and has been interested in engineering since the tender age of 11. 

She was one of the school children in the North West who took part in the Engineering Young Talent programme (EYTP) introduced by BESA member Exyte Hargreaves from the age of 11 to 15. This ground breaking initiative for local schools was set up by former BESA President Tim Hopkinson when he was managing director at Hargreaves and has been responsible for enthusing hundreds of young people about the possibility of a career in building engineering.

“I was only young, but once I was introduced to engineering it was all I wanted to do and I have never once regretted my decision,” says Melissa (or Mel), who started her apprenticeship at Hargreaves when she turned 16 and is now completing it at Premium Fabrications in Stockport.

“Don't get me wrong, it can be difficult just like any other job. However if you gave up and didn't stick to something, you'd never be good at anything,” she says. “It helps if, like me, you are very driven, which means that if I want to progress, whether it's personal growth or skills for my career, I'm going fight for it.”

She thinks that there are probably lots of other young women out there who are similarly driven, but are terrified at the thought of “going into this journey alone” because of the male-dominated image of the industry.

“They need to know that they will have the support they need. That doesn’t mean being cradled, but most of the men in our sector accept that times are changing and they are willing to teach and help you.”

Mel enjoyed her time at Hargreaves, but wanted to expand here knowledge of other products and services so moved on to Premium Fabrications.

“It was a major jump to start a new job at the age of 18, but it was one of the best decisions I've ever made because now I'm able to expand my knowledge and have a wider skill set.”

Her work requires some physical strength and lots of planning. “It's key that I can plan how to do certain jobs. For example, I work with sizes and measurements for metal and need to consider areas and so forth, and if we have sufficient space, or what equipment I need to use,” she explains. 

As well as becoming a skilled welder/fabricator, she was one of the young people chosen to promote the city of Manchester in a marketing video.

It helps if you can develop self-confidence, she adds. “You must constantly tell yourself that you are capable. Especially as an apprentice, it can be hard because there are just so many things to learn and yes it can be overwhelming, but the most valuable thing every engineering apprentice can learn is from experience.”

Her gender has not hindered her career, but Mel does admit that there will always be a minority “who can't accept that I am a girl”.  “It doesn’t bother me and I respect that if they have been working in the industry for many years; it can be difficult to accept change.”

She says it is vital not to be intimidated and she would encourage every young woman interested in the industry to join. “You can do it, as long as you believe in yourself and keep high spirits, but also appreciate that it can be overwhelming. So remember you need to have a good balance so that you can be the best version of yourself.”

Mel thinks events like INWED20 help because they demonstrate that many women have already succeeded in engineering and BESA’s role in championing female talent is also extremely supportive.

“Regardless of it being a struggle to fit in; regardless of people trying to bring them down and thinking 'little' of them. Regardless of all that, they have found their calling, they have chosen to fallow their ambition, their goals and dreams of becoming an engineer,” she says.

"Life is what you make of it. Your future is in your own hands, if you truly want something, you need to fight for it. I want to contribute by being a strong female role model and ambassador to inspire more generations of young women engineers.”

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