My Engineering Journey: 'It's important to mentor future generations and encourage women'

My Engineering Journey: 'It's important to mentor future generations and encourage women'

Heather Foster takes you on a journey through the different stages of her life, highlighting the times that influenced her career path into becoming sector lead for healthcare, education and the public sector at Veolia UK and Ireland.


When I was at school, my favourite subjects were English and history. Nobody would have guessed that if they could see where my career has taken me since! I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, but, after a meeting with a careers adviser at school, she concluded that going down the engineering pathway would be for me. So I decided to study physics, biology and mathematics.

1998-99, Manchester Metrolink

After college, I had an opportunity for a year in industry, under a scheme run by Salford University. I worked at Metrolink in Manchester as a technical assistant which was new for me and it encouraged me to take up a career in mechanical engineering.

1999-2003, Sheffield Hallam University/ Vauxhall Motors

After my year in industry, I was accepted for a mechanical engineering degree at Sheffield Hallam University where I was one of two girls on the whole degree course. In the third year, I did a sandwich year to gain some more valuable experience and worked at Vauxhall Motors’ factory in Ellesmere Port in the general assembly. I enjoyed my time which included visiting Germany to see the development of the then new Vectra.

2003-05, Graduate engineer, AEA Technology

After university I gained my first graduate position at a rail consultancy which allowed me to travel to places like Finland, a place you would not normally visit on your average holiday. Their train refurbishment work really gave me an understanding of engineering project management.

2006-17, ENER.G Combined Power

Two years later, I was ready to move into the energy sector where I started as an internal sales engineer, responsible for prospecting, technical support and producing energy savings approvals, among a lot of other things. I then spent a year as a technical sales engineer, before becoming a corporate account manager. I finished as head of operations, responsible for a maintenance contract budget of £11m, covering the maintenance of combined-heat-and-power systems throughout the UK, and became a chartered engineer.

2018- Present, Veolia UK & Ireland

In 2018, I moved to Veolia to work on energy savings projects for the public sector. As a business development manager, I helped deliver energy performance contracts across the UK, including carbon reduction projects at Rotherham Hospital and Alderley Park. After 18 months, I became the healthcare sector lead at Veolia. I enjoy working at Veolia as the purpose and values align closely with my own, particularly ecological transformation and community spirit, as this contributes to making the planet a better place for generations to come, including my seven-year-old daughter. I am a purpose and values ambassador at Veolia where we facilitate discussions on what they mean to everyone in the business. At Veolia, I have taken part in a programme called the Leadership Cadre, a talent programme which gives you exposure to other areas of the business, facilitates training for leaders and provides workshops with external providers. One of the workshops was on personal brand. Mine is nurturing, whether that is the project you are working on, the colleagues you work with, or your friends and family at home. I am also a mentor to a technical apprentice and a recently qualified solicitor in our legal team. I think it is important to mentor and support future generations and encourage women and young people into engineering and STEM subjects. I am ambitious about the future.

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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