Transcript: The next generation of workers with Dr Margi Vilnay

Mamta Gera
 
Hey everyone and welcome to the future of work in construction Concast.
I would like to introduce our next guest Doctor Margi. I will give you some background on Doctor Margi, she is a director of public engagement and outreach for School science and engineering at the University of Dundee as well as a lecturer on structural engineering.
Margi has enjoyed a varied career to date having been the programme leader, the BSE in civil engineering at Dundee University a specialist consulting in the oil and gas industry and an EU funded researcher into protected historic structures, which I think is incredible.
Margi thanks every so much today for joining me for a chat. Just reading your biography makes me feel inspired, I want to do more with my life as well. I have to say I am doing MSE at the moment, I’m a bit scared and I am struggling a little bit. I haven’t studied for so long, its been hard going back to that studying again. Its amazing what you have achieved, so, congratulations on what you have done so far.
 
Margi
Well thank you so much and thank you for having me.
 
Mamta
No problem, its an absolute pleasure to have you on board.
So I guess what I would love to know at the moment is, how do you come across this career?, from being in education at school to where you are now?
 
Margi
So I was probably quite lucky as my dad was an engineer as well. I was exposed to the engineering world from a young age and I think that probably got my intrigue into what he actually did as opposed to when I was very young and he just spent the ducks.
 
Mamta
I love the ducks, laugh.
 
 
Margi
That developed slightly and that’s all I thought he did. I have developed from there and I guess that was an influence and probably one of the things that really drew me into the career was that feeling of creativity and helping build the world around them, helping influence everything we see around us and hopefully creating some kind of legacy. Being about to purse a monument or house or something and say I had a part in that.
 
Mamta
That’s amazing and I think actually its amazing to here when your younger because not lots of young people have that purpose or want to know what that goal is. So having that purpose and that drive to achieve things is quite incredible. How old were you when your thinking about those things?
 
Margi
I think that kind of intrigue about solving things, I really like building things. Even today, there is a massive fight in my house about, if something comes from Ikea, it has to me be building it. Me and my daughter to be honest, she is my little side kick, handing me the screws but I love seeing things come together, but sometimes I love taking them apart to see how they fitted together and being able to question things, how they work, why do they work like that. Probably from a young age but to be honest I didn’t go into engineering until I was older, I was probably around 23, so it took me a while to get into the career. But I think it was always there that kind of willingness to see how the world around us interacts with us and with nature.
 
Mamta
That’s amazing. Sometimes people who want to be articchects and they are very interested in architecture when they are younger. I think its amazing that your dad was already in that field. My dad was in the banking field and I had to go and work when I was 16 in a bank with him but I realised that I didn’t want to do it, which is also a good thing. I realised that I wanted to do something else, which was a good thing for me. So its a really good thing when you discover these things when your younger I think. Often we are not given the best career advice, so its hard to have that guidance.
 
Margi
Definitely and I think sometimes I really feel for whoever is in charge of giving career advise. Its so hard to know all the careers that are out there, even within engineering there are so many different engineering disciplines. You have got biomedical, you have got mechanical, you have got civil obviously which is my discipline. Even within those, there are so many different avenues within that. You have your technical, structures, you have fluid, you have environmental; so anybody that’s not in the field, its probably really hard to give advice knowing what’s out there.
 
Mamta
Absolutely. Now that your very senior director public engagement, are you a leader of people now? How did you become that senior position?
 
Margi
So, I think its been a journey for me and I think probably what has made me get to the role is my personal passion and that’s part of being able to take initiative. It takes a while to feel confident enough to stand up and go I’m not sure this is working properly and I want to change it and influence things. Or this is working really well but I think maybe I can help improve things and so I would say in terms of the outreach engagement, what I really enjoy Is working with so many passionate people at that the university and charities who are just so intend on bringing stem education to everybody. Because if their is something I believe in, its roles like stem and engineering in particular, there is a role out there for everybody. If you like sitting in an office and designing things, there is a role for you, if you like being outside on site and getting your hands dirty there is a role for you. It covers everything and I’m really passionate to get that career choice out there. I think there are a lot of problems now days with people from different backgrounds, perhaps being interested in stem or engineering, perhaps wanting a career but not feeling that suitable for them, maybe they are not the right models, maybe the career guidance has been lacking or not been applied to them. My mission is to get engineering out there, to make everybody feel that they can take a part. Even if you don’t want to be an engineer or don’t want to be in the industry, just having an appreciation of what’s  happening around you and all those things, I feel is really important.
Back to your question, I feel really lucky to be working with these really inspiring people and although my title is a director I think the best things happen when people work in teams. You get your heads together, I feel whatever ideas I bring to the table they are always improved by working in a team. I am passionate about it and so are the people I work with and I think that makes a huge difference.
 
Mamta
 
It does, if everyone is involved and everyone has a purpose and a mission then your do really well. I think that’s such a great, inspiring answer, I think for me. You are not just involving yourself as a leader but everyone being their own leader and everyone moving forward together which is amazing. What have there been the challenges over the years to just get where you are and get where your up to do you think?
 
Margi
I think its taken me a while to get there. You mentioned in your introduction, quite a few things I have done and so its moving from one to the other. I did start in research, I really enjoyed that, the protecting historical structures was a fantastic thing to be involved in and then I continued research into the effects of plasters into structures and I was really enjoying that and at some point I felt that perhaps I needed to go into industry and to do something a bit more practical with outcomes that were visible from day one instead of working for a long time to see some results. So did that but there were other aspects I missed so I moved back into academia. So although I really enjoyed my time in the industry and worked with some amazing people who are now really high up in the industry and making a big difference. I moved back and I think the moving back was probably missing lecturing and missing working with younger people and getting them into engineering. Its such a nice feeling, seeing someone graduate and hearing a few years down the line what amazing projects they have been involved in. My career has not been a straight one like it has for a lot of people, its been really twisty and curvy and I’ve gone and come back but its been interesting and I think all that builds into what im doing now and I guess ive found my passion and what I care about and I would say its definitely lead me to see things in the industry that I perhaps think I could change and its probably giving me the confidence and drive to do that.
 
Mamta
Absolutely, I think having a curvy career path is the best way forwards and I can say the same for myself because if you don’t learn from different areas it will probably stay the same and you don’t take risks as well. Is super important to be able to explore different things and I think we are quite scared to do that because we have a mortgage, a family and we have bills to pay so it does take courage to do that but ultimately you know that when you get to 60-70 years old, you know you want to look back and think, I did this because it meant something to me. Rather than just the money, so I think that’s amazing. Having the courage to change stuff. Now you mention it what  do you think the industry can do to change it? What are the issues around it currently?
 
Margi
 
So I guess there is an image thing. Its seen as a very male dominated field. If we are talking about civil engineering, you often see people walking around with hi vis and hard hats, which is the stereotypical thing that people imagine. Whereas in reality, when I was in industry, I never wore a hard hat ever. I started in an office working on creative solutions, to structural integrity, offshore platforms, I didn’t get to do those things. I think a lot of people perhaps don’t realise the creativity that goes on. Finding the solutions to these fantastic structures and infrastructure that we have all around us. People don’t realise the creativity and they just envisage this dirty outside work that is very hands on and is not as creative, not as much team work that really happens behind the scenes. I would definitely like to see the image changed. I would love it if you googled engineer and the first image you saw was not some guy wearing a hard hat on site. I think there is an image change and its probably quite off putting to a number of people. If you are more of a person who likes drawing and creative conclusions you might not naturally go to that. So I think there needs to be an image change but also in terms of the demographic of people who are in engineering. I really believe that this is a career opportunity for anybody who is interested. You don’t have to amazing at maths or physics. You need a grounding in those to be able to get into the profession but there are so many routes in, its not just going to university in the traditional way. I feel that there are so many routes in. There are so many people I have me that have taken engineering as a second career. Just show casing, either ex military or  even an ex nurse. Alll these different career paths that can lead into It and they can all contribute. There are so many skills that you need like the teamwork, communication skills, understanding peoples briefings and what other people are looking for. Perhaps health and safety, there are so many different aspects you can look to. I would like to see more people, especially under represented people coming into engineering.
 
 
 
Mamta
Absolutely, hundred percent, there are so many, over the last year, like black lives matter that have come up over the year, companies are trying to be more diverse and to implement DNI  initiatives as well. I honestly think even having a diverse workforce is great, but also thinking diversely. You know having same solution s to problems, you will get ideas more a more diverse group rather than one type of group, which will create amazing things I think.
 
 
Margi
I completely agree with you and I think research proves that if you work in diversity, the first thing you get to is a creative solution quicker. These days we are all zoomed out, who doesn’t want to have  less meetings and get a solution quicker. A lot of research has shown that having diverse teams actually saves companies money and brings that bigger earnings so I think it has to be a win win solution. No one is doing anybody a favour by creating diverse teams, there is a business case for it. Working as a team, you come with something so much better.
 
Mamta
I agree, hundred percent. Are there any initiatives or DNI initiatives at university and what have they been like or what do they incorporate?
 
Margi
Coming from industry that was very male dominated. I do see more of a need to have a gender balance in the industry. I do think that a lot of the change can probably be around having inspiring role models. There are some amazing women in engineering, but we don’t hear about them that much. That is a really important perspective if we are talking about gender. With that in mind, one of the things I initiated a few years ago what was the national women in engineering day which is now the international women in engineering day to Dundee. We have done that every year with the miss of last year which we did something online. Bringing people tighter to discuss how we can make change in the industry. Working with charities like Equate Scotland who are amazing in what they do which is training and helping women who are already studying stem or in stem workplaces to up skill or help them face the barriers that they are facing. With that in mind, last year I managed to set up a scheme for women studying civil engineering at the University of Dundee for women to be mentored by women working in the industry and that is really important.
 
 
Mamta
That’s a massive project, its not a small feat.
 
Margi
It was a good set up and the good thing for me was at the University of Dundee I got so much support and so much encouragement to develop it which made the work easier. Its been amazing to see all these females mentors who want to give back and they want to mentor the next generation of women coming into the industry. The response has been amazing. I f we go back to research, women who are mentored are less likely to drop off and they are more likely to receive higher grades and they are more likely to be inspired to go into the career. In civil engineering,  only around 15 percent of women are in engineering and then that drops down further entering the profession. There is a leaky pipeline all the way through, that women drop out for all kinds of reasons but we hope by having a mentor on place maybe they will talk about the difficulties before they leave.
 
 
Mamta
Absolutely, what you have done is such an important thing because it will only get bigger and more positive as you go through the years. You don’t want to see that industry stay as it is you want to see it change and I know its difficult as there are different types of careers, people try different things. If there were young people listening to this today or people from different ethnic minority backgrounds how would they be able to find out more information about this? How could they think about getting into that career? Or maybe get some experience around that?
 
 
Margi
 
Probably my advice would be don’t be afraid to ask, don’t be afraid to put yourself forward. Ask, even if its just on a group chat with your teachers. Ask if there are any engineers that would be really excited to be contacted to give advice. I would definitely recommend to ask, go and have  a look around. If you have a look at engineering projects on youtube, or go to university websites see what they do. I would also give a shout out to the Association of black and ethnic minority engineers they do amazing charity work and getting young people engaged in engineering. I would look around to see what’s happening locally to you. Many of the women that mentor on linked in, get in touch I am sure there are many women that would be delighted to answer.
Think people are scared to get in touch via inked in or social media platforms because they don’t think they will get a reply back. If a young person contacts me I will reply to them straight away because I really want to help, even its just given advice or a link somewhere.
 
Mamta,
 
Thanks a lot, really appreciate that. You will probably get loads of linked in messages now. That’s amazing, the work you do sounds incredible.
Where would you like to be in your career the next five years do you think?
 
Margi
Continue doing what I’m doing. As mentioned before there are a lot of under represented groups, in terms of ethnicity, gender or even in previous careers. For example, if people are coming out of the military. There is a place in engineering for every body. I would really like some of my projects that probably we would still be working on them this year but its been slower, just getting people engaged. We also do a lot of outreach with our own students to get confident to deliver things. They had so much hope of going to school this year and delivering projects that have all been happening remotely so I would like to see these things grow and a community grow out of where people can get tighter, share experiences, better practice and change the face of the industry in a really positive way.
 
 
Mamta
 
Then you can put your feet up and retire. It feels like there is so much you want to do which is incredible. That’s what keeps a person motivated, that’s what can be done.
 
Margi
 
As I mentioned there is so many great charities that I have enjoyed working with I mentioned FE, Equate Scotland, there is also project Rekey which looks at helping veterans get into the construction industry. So many charities that we have touched upon this year and I’m hoping to increase our work with them. It is so nice to work for an organisation that is so enthusiastic about taking these things forward.
 
Mamta
That makes a difference though, if you have that support behind you, you can do anything.
Thank you so much, I feel so inspired. It sounds like your doing amazing work. Before we leave you, one last question. If you had an uncomfortable question to ask your industry, what would it be?
 
 
Margi
 
That s a good one! Its a tough question, what I would want is when companies say that having women working for them is very important, having black people work for them is very important, having other ethnic minorities work for them is very important, on a day like international women’s day or international women in engineering day or friendship day or whatever day they feel the need as a company to highlight. I would like them to put their money where their mouth is, I would like them to show me the gender pay gap, I would like them to tell me how they promote people, how they ensure everyone is treated fairly, how they discuss mental health all those things. I want to really see what’s going on as I really think there are a lot of empty words, people make believe they are doing it but I want to see the proof.
 
Mamta
Ultimately these companies that do a check box excersie because they are pressured to do it. Are they doing the right things to make change? I completely agree as I ask those questions as well, what are you doing about it? That is such a powerful pint to end that discussion. If they can answer that a lot of change can be done.
Margi, thank you so much for your time, its been a pleasure to speak to you and I cant wait for everyone to hear this Concast, lots of people will be inspired by your journey and the information you gave as well. You have given lots of pointers and I really appreciate that, thank you so much.
 
 
Thank you so much for having me, its been a pleasure chatting to you today.