Ludmila Johnston, an active member of ICE Scotland's Municipal Group, tells us how being a woman and a mum didn't stop her from becoming a civil engineer, and encourages other young women to pursue the career, too.
When I was young, I used to love playing with Lego and I was fond of making zoos and similar buildings.
There seemed to be a difference with my buildings, as I was forever thinking about practicalities, as well as how nice they looked. I would wonder how the water and food would be delivered to the animals in the zoo, and how to make the process as easy as possible.
At school, I was always interested in technical subjects, such as maths, physics and chemistry, and enjoyed looking at the logic behind things.
A stumbling block
However, a stumbling point came to me when I was 14 years old and I had to decide what subjects to study.
As a female, I was encouraged to study business. This turned out to be the wrong decision for me, but luckily I managed to change paths to engineering, which was always my greatest interest.
I was accepted at the University of Technology at Brno in the Czech Republic in 2004 to study Civil Engineering and Management. While studying, I worked for an architect company for a few years and they let me have flexible hours to accommodate my study at university.
After I graduated in 2010, I came over to Perth, Scotland to study English language full-time at the University of Highlands and Islands. The language school there was recommended by a friend of a friend who'd been there, and I had always wanted to live in a foreign country and do some travelling before settling down.
When life happens...
Scotland was a great choice with its lovely nature and rich history. Ultimately, I wanted to improve my English so that I could return to the Czech Republic and try to secure a good job. However, as every Scottish person knows, ‘the best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft a-gley’: in other words, I met a Scottish boy, fell in love and got married and stayed in Perth.
After the language course, I joined Perth and Kinross Council as a summer student in 2011, working in the Flooding Team until the end of that calendar year.
With a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering behind me, I was successful in returning to the council as a graduate engineer in March 2012.
As part of this post, I signed up to the Council's ICE-approved training agreement, with the aim to become a Chartered engineer. The post also involved rotating through the different sections of the Roads Department, including Flooding, Road Safety, Network Management, Urban Traffic Control, Roads Maintenance, Structures and Roads Design.
My training was interrupted when I was on maternity leave in 2017, and thanks to the support of my husband, I was able to return to work after seven months. Having met all the development objectives to the required standard, I sat my professional review in October 2018, and received the good news in December 2018 that I'd been successful in becoming a Chartered engineer. I take great satisfaction from managing to balance a happy family life with my desire to be a Chartered engineer.
'It's important to have a team of people with different backgrounds'
The engineering field is still a mainly male-dominated field, but in recent years, I can see more women securing positions in our office.
I personally don't – and never have - see any difference between working with a male or a female colleague, but think it's important to have a team built from people with different backgrounds and knowledge. It's teamwork that's the most vital part of any job in order to achieve the best possible outcomes.
Working for Perth and Kinross Council, I've learned that a positive attitude can help to get things done, whether dealing with contractors, the public or work colleagues.
I've encouraged young girls interested in technical subjects to consider civil engineering as their career path by visiting schools and ICE events. On one occasion, the children were asked to construct a bridge from a set of given materials (tubing, decking, pegs, etc) and there were interesting ideas from both boys and girls. This is encouraging.
Plenty of opportunity for engineers
I find my own work fun (yes, fun!), interesting and a challenging field to work in, with a wide variety of possible projects available. It's a well-paid sector, and delivers a high level of satisfaction from completed work.
Also, as an engineer, you have opportunities to go and work in other countries, as the knowledge and experience gained is applicable everywhere. The country may change, but the principles are the same. I would say to girls interested in becoming a civil engineer - don’t be discouraged by anybody, just do your best and go for it!
In the next few weeks, I will take up a new position with Fife Council as a consultant engineer. This is a very exciting time for my family and I, and I'm really looking forward to the challenges associated with a new position. I've always been ambitious about my career and what I expect to achieve, and a new position in a new location is part of that process.