Oliwia Knowles is rising high in engineering (literally). Less than 15 years ago she was a single mum, without a job, without any money, and unable to speak English.
This is her International Women in Engineering Day
Oliwia is originally from Poland and came to England in 2007. She had endured a difficult relationship, one that ended with her alone here in the North West, with a young child and often wondering how she’d be able to put food on the table.
She gained qualifications and volunteered in schools, worked as a teaching assistant, a cleaner, an interpreter and then as an outreach worker supporting women affected by domestic violence. Determined, resilient, and simply incredible.
But she had a long-standing wish for a career in engineering – having loved to fix cars, bikes and even trucks, anything ‘hands on’ that involved finding solutions. “I like anything practical, having obstacles and then finding ways to overcome them.”
So, when she was 33, she applied for Cadent’s Engineering Training Programme. At first unsuccessful, she came back and tried again … we are so glad she did.
Oliwia got a place on the three-year scheme – and her engineering career began.
Lots of classroom-based theory, on-the-job practical experience, plus juggling the demands of everyday home life (Oliwia happily remarried and has two daughters).
“I knew a lot about pregnant women, but not a lot about physics!” said Oliwia. “I was also in my 30s, which felt a little late and that was my main concern at the time.”
By June 2019, several months ahead of schedule, she was a qualified Network Supervisor, overseeing the work of 10 teams covering one of Cadent’s largest (by geography) patches – north Lancashire and the southern part of Cumbria.
This means dealing with everything from emergency situations, to service-laying, to repairs, to mains replacement, water ingress, customer queries, traffic management – you name it, it’s part of the daily life of a supervisor in our field force teams.
Then, last year, Oliwia became a supervisor in our MOBs team (multi-occupancy buildings). So, ensuring gas is safely distributed in buildings that may rise upwards of three floors – and often much more. We have lots of these in NW England.
“I love it – maybe not the paperwork! – but having obstacles and then finding solutions is what this job is all about and that’s what I enjoy doing.”
Now Oliwia is keen to break down barriers – whether real or perceived – that put obstacles in the way of more women becoming engineers.
As a member of Cadent’s new ‘Women in Ops’ group – part of our ‘Women in Cadent’ community – she plans to champion improvements to on-site facilities, a change to language often used in the industry (e.g., ‘men working at height’ signage), and more flexibility, to balance life at home and life at work.
Thanks, Oliwia, for sharing your story, and Happy International Women in Engineering Day!