“It’s never too late to embrace a new challenge if it’s something you are passionate about,” says Gemma Christian, technical director at engineering, research and development specialist Alvant Ltd.
After leaving school at 16 with no qualifications, Gemma is not only an example of how it is never too late to study or retrain, she is also leading the way for women in a traditionally a male dominated industry.
In 2017, PwC found that women hold just 15 per cent of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) roles at the UK’s major technology companies.
Research by the Psychology Science journal found that 48 per cent of girls currently in education would be expected to take up STEM subjects based on their ability alone and suggests a lack of confidence maybe responsible for the shortfall of women taking science further. Whatever the reason, the good news is that the number of women entering STEM professions is slowly increasing, via traditional routes as well as the less conventional.
It was only after Gemma began her career as an office administrator at an engineering company, that her interest in technology grew.
“I didn’t enjoy my time at school and it was only after I had left that I realised I had an interest in technology. I thought I had missed my chance, but I learned that it is never too late.”
Gemma enrolled in college, studying for a BTEC in Engineering. “The experience was the opposite of my time at school, and my supportive teachers encouraged me to continue my studies.”
“My advice for anyone who wants to pursue a career in technology but is worried they might have missed their chance is to go for it. Mine was not the traditional route to the job I have now, but it does go to show that if you have a passion for something, it is never too late to pursue it.”
Gemma then went on to study for a BEng (Hons) in Aerospace Systems Engineering and a Masters in Advanced Materials.
In 2014, Gemma joined Alvant as materials engineering manager and become a chartered engineer with IMechE (Institute of Mechanical Engineers) the following year.
Based in Basingstoke, Alvant blends metal and composites to create hybrid materials that reduce weight and increase performance, while being more tolerant to physical and thermal damage than carbon composite materials. Alvant’s aluminium matrix composites are found in transport, defence, high-end consumer, industrial and healthcare industries, as well as some sporting goods.
As technical director, Gemma is now responsible for all technical operations, from internal R&D to delivery of materials and applications engineering projects including developing materials which will reduce the weight of electric rotors by 40 per cent and playing a vital part in a £28- million project aiming to reduce the weight of large aircraft landing gear.
“If you are passionate about something, and you are prepared to work hard, there will be no stopping you,” concludes Gemma.
About the author
Gemma Christian, technical director at Alvant Ltd. Gemma is a highly experienced engineer, with a MSc CEng in advanced materials. Gemma has previously worked in the field of composite materials for some of the world’s leading aerospace companies, including Airbus and GE Aviation.