Jan's Story - Chair, Energy & Utility Skills

Jan Ward CBE, formerly a teenage mother with no qualifications and now Chair of Energy & Utility Skills Group and CEO of her own international engineering business, has lent her inspirational voice to encourage females to consider roles that were once the preserve of males.*

Jan Ward, Chair of Energy & Utility Skills

Her guidance comes ahead of the annual International Women in Engineering Day, a worldwide call to encourage females to recognise the growing potential for them to build careers in engineering and technical roles.  

Also the chair of Energy & Utility Skills, the expert voice on workforce issues in the energy and utilities sector, it is hard to imagine Jan, now 59, was ever in need of inspiration. This was the case when, at 15, she fell pregnant and was forced to end her secondary education.  

“I spent several years caring for my mother and younger brother by the age of 15. My five older siblings had left home. I didn’t resent it but I was young. I wanted to ‘break out.’ When my parents found out I was pregnant, my teachers were told. I was forced to leave school. 

“I took on the role to let people know about the opportunities in energy and utilities – there are so many different careers. The companies invest in their people with good training, pay and progression. Less than 10% of engineers in the UK are women. Diverse teams are able to deliver more – so I hope to see this change.”

“I was hardly showing and could have got away with it and taken my exams first but things were different then. We got married and raised our son around my part-time work. Eventually it dawned on me that I was in a dead-end situation, with no qualifications and no chance of getting decent work and building a career for myself. I was ‘climbing the walls,’ so to speak.”

At 19 and separated, Jan’s lifeline came in the form of a government scheme for the unemployed, and she took the opportunity to do an evening course on international trade. Growing up near the coast in Southampton, Jan recalled being fascinated by the world: “I was an avid reader and always chose books about travel. I remember hearing stories from my brothers’ national service overseas. I found the trade course really interesting. It had three modules and once I completed the first, I had to find a full-time job before I could take the second module.”

Jan’s new-found trade knowledge helped her land a job in telesales with an export company, and as she continued her studies, she also discovered an interest in engineering. Supported by her new husband, she combined work with study, and qualified with a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering in 1984. Eight years later, Jan founded Corrotherm International, supplier of high-grade metals and since 2002, she has acted in advisory capacities to various Government departments. In 2014, Jan received a CBE for services to business and was named the Institute of Directors’ Global Director of the Year.***

“I am in a great position to help make a difference in our sector which is vital for the future of all four nations in the United Kingdom. When I was a teenager, there were no role models that I could aspire to but I managed to find inspiration and used it to transform my life.”

That motivation came from Jan’s humble upbringing: “My oldest sister was a lorry driver. I grew up hearing that my mother worked in factories during World War II. Going out to work was something everyone did. It didn’t matter what the work was or whether the workers were women. I suppose that impacted me without me realising.  Also, I wanted to learn about something other than cookery at school: I was cooking all the time at home!”

“Engineering roles can sometimes be seen as manual, where as they are so varied. I hope more girls and women bring their talents to these roles. There are so many opportunities in the energy and utilities sector and Energy & Utilities Jobs is a great initiative to help you find them.”

With events across the UK planned to celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, Jan, who resides in the New Forest in southern England, hopes other women see the potential of roles in engineering: “I want everyone who feels demotivated to understand what’s causing it, recognise that you can achieve and not to turn down an opportunity – because that opportunity may offer more than you think and could have the potential to change your life and the lives of those around you. Working in energy and utilities helps provide vital services – and many career-opportunities in a fast-paced technology driven environment.

* The gender split in engineering within the energy and utilities sector does not reflect the national picture: 78% of the workforce is male, compared to 53% nationally.

In elementary, operative and skilled trade occupations more than nine out of ten employees are male (92%, 98% and 99% respectively).

Males also dominate the technician (73%), engineering (81%) and management (84%) levels of the workforce.  

**Jan was also named the UK’s most inspirational female entrepreneur, winning the coveted NatWest Everywoman Award in 2009. She also holds a number of Chair and Non-Executive Director roles including at the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (appointed 2013) and the Hampshire Chamber of Commerce where she was President 2009-11.

She includes being awarded an honorary Doctorate in Engineering by Southampton Solent University in 2015, as one of her proudest moments: “To be acknowledged by the University in that way was extremely rewarding!”  

*** The 221,000 new recruits needed are made up of 31,000 new vacancies, 100,000 that will be created by existing employees’ retirement and a further 90,000 people who will leave to find new roles in other sectors.

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