Traditionally seen as a male-dominated industry, engineering today is attracting more women, with three in 10 reading the subject in Singapore’s universities and polytechnics. This is up 15 per cent from a decade ago, according to a recent Straits Times report.

Ms Tan Puay Hua and Ms Toh Qiuyi are part of this growing group of women engineers, and are pursuing careers in one of Singapore’s newest and fastest growing industries — aerospace.

Both are working at Rolls-Royce, which provides power systems and services for use on land, at sea and in the air.

Mid-career switcher

Ms Tan Puay Hua, 42, was a former executive in the machine tools industry before deciding on a new career challenge. She switched to the aerospace industry as a manufacturing services manager with Rolls-Royce.

Today, she oversees manufacturing services operations at the Trent aero engine assembly facility and the Wide Chord Fan Blade manufacturing facility at the newly opened Rolls-Royce Seletar Campus.

Over 20 years of experience in machine tools has given Ms Tan exposure to the entire spectrum of manufacturing operations, from design, repair and production, to marketing, sales, customer service and administration, but she had become comfortable in her job.

She says: “It was a difficult decision on whether to make the switch. I had machine tool blood running through me. Coming into the aerospace industry, I wondered, am I going to start all over again? Are my skills even applicable?” 

Her technical skills and engineering background were indeed transferable.

“The major differences were with specific equipment used in the aerospace industry, industry regulations, inspection processes and the intensive quality and control standards.”

She adds: “You have to be right the first time; there is no room for mistakes. One mistake and 300 people’s lives are at stake. I’ve never felt this level of responsibility before.”

Rolls-Royce helps new employees to adjust to the rigorous standards and demands of the aerospace industry with comprehensive training delivered locally and through stints at its facilities in the United Kingdom and Europe.

Says Ms Tan: “On average, I spend 20 to 30 per cent of my time training on both job and industry-related areas. Rolls-Royce makes sure that each technician or engineer goes through the same intensity of training required to ensure high levels of quality and that excellence is consistently delivered.”

Looking back at her decision over a year ago, Ms Tan has no regrets. “You need courage to make the switch, but the opportunity with Rolls-Royce was very attractive.

“After learning about the company’s growth plans, I was excited about the role and the industry prospects. The aerospace manufacturing industry in Singapore is barely a year old and there is a massive
opportunity for growth with the company and the industry.”

Early career entrant

Ms Toh Qiuyi, 29, has been with Rolls-Royce for just over a year. As a materials technologist with the Failure Investigation team in the Materials Support Laboratory at the Advanced Technology Centre, she is responsible for carrying out intensive forensic analysis of materials and failure investigations to support the life cycle management of all Rolls-Royce aero engines in service in the Asia Pacific region.

She says: “Coming from a family of engineers, I have always been interested in engineering, and materials technology was an obvious choice for me as I am passionate about hands-on, technical work.”

A comparatively young entrant to the industry, Ms Toh began her career as an entry-level engineer with a competitor in the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) sector as part of an industrial attachment from Nanyang Technological University.

After gaining five years of experience, she explains her decision to switch: “My previous job was production-focused. Now, at Rolls-Royce, my job involves materials support and failure investigations, which are remarkably different, yet require many of the same skills, from problem-solving to being objective-focused. 

“The new areas I had to grasp were how each individual component comes together in the engine, and the different materials, quality checks and standards unique to Rolls-Royce.

“I was sent for a one-year structured training programme to Derby, UK, which included one month in Dahlewitz, Germany, where I learned high-value skills including preserving evidence from a failure incident and using advanced technologies and equipment as part of in-depth investigation work on materials and failure mechanisms.”

Aside from her interest in materials technology, Ms Toh recognised the opportunity for her own professional growth. “Rolls-Royce as a brand was attractive; the job scope in investigative work was
interesting and the constant learning available was a real draw in itself.”

When asked about being a female in a male-dominated industry, she was unfazed, replying: “As long as you are competent and have confidence in your own abilities, there are numerous rewarding opportunities for women.”