SOE News

How I became a vehicle examiner

8th Feb 2018

Q&A with Ruth Kyriacos EngTech, Vehicle Examiner at Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), based in North Wales.

Could you firstly tell us a little bit about your career to date?

I always knew I wanted to be a mechanic from working at my dad’s garage when I was young.

I attended Waltham Forest College in London, where I completed my Higher National Certificate in Automotive Engineering. I also obtained City & Guilds Level 3 in Vehicle Mechanical & Electronic Systems through Basildon College.

In April 2002 I joined The Vehicle Inspectorate as a Vehicle Examiner working out of the Yeading Enforcement office in London. They didn’t tell me until my first day on the job that I was their first female and the youngest Vehicle Examiner in DVSA.

I moved to the Edmonton office a little while later, when I bought my first house and then voluntarily transferred to the Caernarfon Office in North Wales where I have been based since 2008.

In 2014 I privately financed, studied and successfully gained my international road haulage Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) certificate from Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR). This was something I wanted to achieve as part of my ongoing Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and to support me in my role at DVSA.

What initially made you choose this career?

As a young child I grew up around engineering as my dad owned his own garage in the East End of London and I would often go to work with him on weekends and in school holidays.

Throughout secondary school I always knew I wanted to be an engineer and dreamed about testing and developing vehicle engines.

I’m one of five children and my brother and I went into the trade with my dad. As a child it was just something I was naturally attracted to and good at. I loved being outside, on my feet, fixing things and understanding how things worked.

Were you given encouragement as a woman interested in engineering?

As engineering was already in my blood I didn’t need any encouragement.

I went to an all-girl’s grammar school where there was neither encouragement nor discouragement. I was incredibly lucky that in my exam years they introduced a subject called Building Studies which was available to around five girls to be trained in building and fitting out a house. I had never given building a moment’s thought but with the school offering it I was desperate to get accepted for it. I learned plumbing, electrics, brickwork, painting & decorating and carpentry. This was probably the most valuable thing I’ve ever learned, as not only did it help me in being a mechanic, but even to this day I do all of my own DIY at home.

What do you think could be done now to get more women into engineering?

I believe that someone must be interested in something to pursue it, and in general, women are not interested in engineering.

I think one of the problems is how women in engineering are perceived in a male dominated environment. When I was in the workshop, men would approach me whilst I was working on a car, wearing oil covered overalls and tools in hand, and ask if they could speak to a mechanic.

Women would very rarely talk to me and those that did were surprisingly quite negative and said, ‘I bet you went into this job for the men’.

It was only as I got older and more aware of things that I realised that the general public’s view of women in engineering comes from one place: television. I think more effort should be made to cast women in male dominated roles on TV. In children’s programmes engineering could be portrayed in a more encouraging and positive light.

When you progressed in the early stages of your career, were there any women role models to look up to?

As I didn’t have a female role model to turn to and talk to, to build my confidence and strength, I guess as a young girl I turned to fictional characters for inspiration. When you don’t have a real-life hero or inspirational person you turn to fantasy and fiction as an alternative. I aspired to be just like lieutenant Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) in Alien. Of course, it is my favourite film and she is my role model and inspiration for the simple fact she was a normal woman who totally kicked Alien! All I ever wanted was to be a normal girl doing what I do best.

Is there still a problem with the image of engineering?

I don’t think there is a problem with the image of engineering, only the perception of it. It must be appreciated that some engineering roles will be less attractive to women because of the environment and surroundings they are required to work in and the equipment they will have to wear and use for the job. Not all engineering roles however involve working in such conditions and therefore should be highlighted to women as there may be a greater interest in pursuing these roles as a career. Being a former motor vehicle technician, and now a vehicle examiner, these are roles that you cannot glam up for the sake of making it appealing to women; the job is what it is and the environment what it is. The industry has become more accommodating and welcoming to women and this is personally very much appreciated, but there are just some roles that will still be dominated by men.

What advice would you give to young women engineers?

Firstly, nothing is impossible so if you want something, go get it. Secondly, I would say, be yourself. Women naturally possess different skills to men and for those lucky few, sometimes the skills of both. You will always find areas that you are naturally good in and enjoy and these are probably where you should start. In areas you are not so natural in, then develop them and don’t be afraid to admit that it’s not your strong point and ask for help. If you go into anything feeling you have something to prove, then it becomes a competition. Your career is not a competition, it is part of your life and you want to enjoy it every day, so be the best you can. There is a lot of support and friendliness out there for everyone, not just women, so try not to think of yourself as a ‘woman’ in engineering but an ‘engineer’ instead.

How has your registration to Engineering Council (EngTech) helped your career?

Registration to the Engineering Council provides me with an internationally recognisable qualification and a title that can be easily identified. It makes me feel valued and provides me with a greater level of professionalism in my current role.

Would you recommend it to others?

Yes, I would recommend the Engineering Council to others. I have been registered for many years and as well as giving me a qualification, the membership to a professional body such as the SOE also helps me get access to more information, including website, industry magazines, the CPD process and access to engineering mentors and jobs. This has been of great use to me throughout my career and is often a requirement on job applications. I personally feel my membership with the SOE is invaluable and has supported me in my role over the years.

Can more be done by schools and colleges to promote a career in engineering?

I think that students who have no natural tendencies towards certain subjects will always wonder why they are learning them, and when they will ever use them.

Perhaps changing the way subjects are delivered by integrating subjects with one another and getting students to carry out projects that will be completed across the range of subjects, will help them identify how these complement one another. This will highlight the importance that subject carries and how it can be applied in the working world.

Engineering could then automatically be part of education. With each project the teacher could identify or question the students on how the project is achieved with or without engineering. This is a simple way to widen the perspective of the student, by carrying out everyday tasks in which the role of engineering has previously been overlooked.

Do you think parents have a big influence on decision-making process?

Parents can certainly have a big influence on their child’s decision-making process; the parent’s perception and understanding of a job is also a factor. If a parent wants you to follow in their footsteps then some children may be forced into careers they don’t want to be in; others are merely encouraged and supported. Some parents don’t want you to follow in their footsteps because they don’t enjoy what they do or have had negative experiences.

Teachers can be very encouraging, discouraging or influencing depending on what their beliefs are, what their perspective of the job is and their own personal experiences.

Did you have a mentor?

I’ve had quite a few over the years. My dad was obviously my first, as I would watch him intensely and ask questions to understand what he was doing. Then when I started my apprenticeship the other mechanics were all there to mentor me and my college lecturers too. When I joined the DVSA I had my seniors who always encouraged me, put me on projects and teams to gain experience and knowledge. My seniors and colleagues have been incredibly supportive.

How much of a problem is the skills shortage to UK engineering?

Unfortunately, I experience the lack of engineers on a daily basis in my role visiting workshops where I see and hear about a lack of technicians, qualified and trained staff. Staff do often leave to go to higher paid engineering jobs, so it is important that the industry helps train and recruit more to help with the UK’s infrastructure and the economy. That is why it is important that more women think about becoming engineers.

How does DVSA support you in your career progression?

Support for progression comes from my line manager and colleagues. I have had opportunity for promotion and progression on many occasion and have been encouraged to apply.

However, given the fact I’m a front-line officer, progression for me in DVSA is much like any other job where leaving the shop floor inevitability puts you in an office or managing staff. This is something, which although I am capable of, I have no interest in doing. I have been nominated and selected for projects and trial teams over the years and I enjoy this as it is an opportunity to give input and implement changes within the business, making a real difference to helping improve road safety.

What does the role involve? What do you enjoy most in your role?

As a Vehicle Examiner my role primarily involves making sure lorries and buses are safe to drive on UK roads and that Vehicle Testing Stations (VTS) are working properly.

I conduct roadside vehicle examinations predominantly of Heavy Goods Vehicles/Public Service Vehicles but also any other vehicle on the road that checks may be required on.

I conduct visits to premises of HGV/PSV operators to examine vehicles and the maintenance systems in place. I carry out site visits to VTSs to ensure equipment is working and calibrated, documentation is retained, scheme rules and regulations are being adhered to and check the competency of MOT Testers. Where I find a problem, I give advice and provide reports. Where further investigation is required, this may lead to disciplinary procedures being applied with possible court proceedings or Public Inquires. I also deliver new operator seminars.

The thing I enjoy most about my role is the variety and being outdoors. I’m privileged to work in such a beautiful part of the UK and I’m very much a hands-on person and enjoy being on my feet and active. I get a lot of satisfaction from educating operators, VTSs and MOT Testers to help them achieve compliance and seeing their businesses and skills grow over the years, too.

Is there anything you would do differently in your career?

Being a Vehicle Examiner for the DVSA is not the job that I had envisaged for myself. When I left college, l wanted to go to university to become a Chartered Engineer and work in developing and testing engines; I even designed a part for an engine that excited and intrigued my lecturers and my dad and was advised to get it patented.

Unfortunately, I was not in a position to go to university at the time and therefore pursued other jobs.

I don’t regret not going to university as this was beyond my control and once I joined the DVSA I soon found an important job where I could use my skills to help keep Britain’s roads safe.

Do you think the range of career options is made clear at school / college level?

I don’t think it is made clear enough. Students may be given advice, but I’m not convinced that schools or colleges give out enough detailed information.

Carrying out work experience prior to choosing their exam subjects would help the student choose a career. Simply saying to young students, who have little knowledge of the outside working world that they could go into engineering is not enough.

Children will draw their own conclusion about professions based on their experience which will probably, at that age, be from their parents, TV and social media. Sometimes students will excel in areas that they have no desire to pursue a career in.

If a student achieves high grades in certain subjects, is it fair for a careers advisor to lead them in this direction, without considering if they want to pursue something else and highlighting other options available?

The more detail and information that can be made available to young students the better. A lot of this information is already available via the internet but perhaps they also need a little more help on how to research.

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