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Sophie's YINI placement transformed her future and set her up for a successful career

Sophie Hallett-Jones, age 29 carried out her Year in Industry (YINI) placement at Exception EMS when she was 18 years old. Read all about her inspirational experience below...

What made you apply to the YINI scheme? And why this placement?

I had a disaster with my UCAS application and, at the time, it felt like the worst thing that could have ever happened to me – all I wanted to do was go to university. I sat sobbing in my Head of Year’s office who firmly told me that I was going to do a YINI – I was terrified of her so I just agreed. In retrospect it was honestly the best thing that could have happened to my career.

I spent a long time looking through the YINI website for the right placement. I went to a few interviews but they didn’t click with me. I stumbled across the Exception EMS advert and just knew it was the one. They seemed small enough that you could get stuck in and make a difference.

Describe the projects that you worked on and the outcomes?

I was given a few projects in different areas of the business, but my main project was on introducing a Kanban production system into a manufacturing cell. I had to work closely with the production team to help them rearrange their cell, as well as suppliers to change how we had product delivered to the factory. This resulted in cost savings in terms of both inventory and labour and improved the customer scorecard rating for on-time delivery from 37% to 95%. These were real projects with real, tangible outcomes. As a result of this project, I won the QinetiQ Environmental Awareness Award at the finals of the Contribution to Business awards.

What did you enjoy?

I absolutely loved my placement. I was given real responsibility and got to learn about business in a way that had never occurred to me whilst I was at school.

What were the most important things you learnt during your placement?

Some of my strongest impressions of management strategies were formed at Exception EMS. One thing that really stuck with me was when we needed some of the shopfloor teams to work overtime; they didn’t want to, so one of the company directors put on a lab coat and headed out to the shopfloor. He spent all evening assembling circuit boards to show that everyone was in it together; it really made an impression on me.

How has your career developed since your YINI placement?

Based on my YINI placement, I changed the focus of my degree to manufacturing. I graduated from Loughborough University with a first class MEng in Innovative Manufacturing Engineering and ended up specialising in 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing. I worked my way up through several specialist consultancies to be General Manager of Added Scientific where I was responsible for setting the company up leading a team of engineers and scientists, delivering R&D consultancy for some of the biggest organisations in the world. In March 2019, I took the plunge and set up my own company – Protean Advanced. To do this, I took investment from Wright Industries, owned by Craig Wright. I knew Craig because he owned Exception EMS when I did my YINI; if that doesn’t show the benefit of doing a YINI placement then I don’t know what does! I’ve also just married my partner Simon who I met on my YINI, so it really did change my life.

As a woman in engineering – what would you say to young women who might be considering it as a career? And to those young women that don’t think it’s an environment for them?

Engineering is not what my dad thinks it is; digital technologies have completely changed the face of engineering and the industry is changing as a result. The big challenges that the world faces today like climate change and aging populations are going to be solved by engineers and it’s so exciting to be at the forefront of that. However, if we are going to solve these global problems then it will take diverse teams who see things from different perspectives. I can’t pretend that engineering is perfect at the moment – there is a real issue of unconscious bias in engineering – but things are improving, and companies are recognising that they need to step up to encourage more women to enter the sector. As a result, there are a huge number of opportunities available to you that you have seize. I benefitted from scholarships, placements and grants and travelled all over the world as a result – I’m sure I wouldn’t have had this in any other field.

For those unsure how to get into this sector – what would you say would be a good first step?

Try to get some experience in a few different engineering disciplines to work out what interests you. There’s a world between chemical engineering and aeronautical engineering and it is important to understand what makes you tick. Also remember that, if you show enthusiasm, most engineers are desperate to encourage you into the industry – don’t be afraid to put yourself forwards and ask for opportunities.

Would you recommend an EDT Year in Industry placement to other students and why?

My YINI placement changed my career completely – I wouldn’t have the job I have today if I hadn’t done it. It gave me financial independence at a young age and taught me lessons about work that I wouldn’t have learnt until much later.

To find out more about our Year in Industry (YINI) experience, click here.

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