Back Story: Chloe Sales, “The more experience I gain, the more empowered I am becoming”
Image credit: Alpha Manufacturing
TV presenter Dr Shini Somara talks to Chloe Sales, who certainly did not expect her career to take the direction it did. After unexpectedly trying her hand at welding, she completed an apprenticeship. Now her determination and focus to succeed suggests that a long-term career in engineering is likely.
Shini Somara: Why did you do an Engineering Apprenticeship?
Chloe Sales: At the age of 22 years old, I found myself in difficult family circumstances. I was a qualified hairdresser at 17 but did not like that industry at all. I applied for many different jobs, including the role of warehouse operative. I got a job at TP Cats, but was only hired temporarily, to cover someone who was on holiday.
They were short of welders, so I tried my hand at it. I have always been a much more practical person, rather than a good student, so I was pretty good at it. It also really interested me because I enjoyed the idea that two bits of metal could be joined together with electronics to make a whole new and functional product. So, I decided to put myself on an evening course to learn more. However, my bosses offered to put me on a Level 3 advanced apprenticeship course instead. As a result, I became the first female of their company to go to college and train as an apprentice and the first female in my college to train as a welding apprentice.
Three years later, I completed my apprenticeship and won the STEM Apprentice of the Year Award in 2019, which completely shocked me! I had finally found my stride.
SS: What obstacles have you faced and how have you overcome them?
CS: I didn’t enjoy learning at school and therefore struggled. Being the only female on my apprenticeship course was quite challenging too. Those two things combined, meant that I had to do a lot of catching up on the technical aspects of my apprenticeship.
Despite all the odds, what kept me going was a major drive and determination to show that I could do this, even when many people thought I couldn’t. Now, I call myself an engineer and am really happy with the unplanned direction my career has taken.
Today, I am in full support of apprenticeships. It’s given me an opportunity to earn while I learn and have a foot in industry, despite being a student. I have clocked up four years of great work experience, while becoming a bespoke employee for my current company who have always been so supportive since I first started there in August 2019.
SS: What are your favourite skills acquired on the apprenticeship?
CS: Part of my apprenticeship involved learning how to use computer-aided design. From knowing nothing about this tool, I am now capable and confident in creating a drawing and then making the object itself. I am currently a basic welder but would like to develop my TIG (tungsten inert gas) welds because the finishes are much more beautiful and everything is made to a higher specification. I am a few years off perfecting this skill in both stainless and aluminium, but this is my goal.
SS: Have you had to fight against the stereotypes?
CS: Engineering has a reputation of being a dirty industry, with construction work and big machines. It is generally seen as a man’s world.
However, at my company, I am not treated differently to any of my peers even though – once again – I am the only female in the welding area. I would like to stamp out old stereotypes of engineering and see more women join this brilliant industry – there is definitely room for us here.
I’ve certainly faced negativity for choosing to be part of a male-dominated industry, but I have learned to use this negativity to stand taller. The more experience I gain, the more empowered I am becoming. I now know that people who are unsupportive are generally insecure themselves. I enjoy the challenge of proving naysayers wrong.
SS: What advice do you give girls who may be struggling in such a male-dominated industry?
CS: No one succeeds immediately, but don’t let a few stumbles knock your confidence. We all have obstacles and challenges, male or female, but facing them and learning from them helps us to grow.
If I can get into engineering with no background or experience, so many other girls definitely can. You just have to keep pushing for what you want and eventually you will succeed. I want you to know you are supposed to be exactly where you are, and if you fail at something? Great! Try and try again. You may have found a thousand ways that won’t work – but there will be one way that will!
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