WOMAN ENGINEER MAKES A DIFFERENCE

  • By The Straits Times
  • Posted 7 months ago
  • Reading Time : a few minutes

Ms Tan Yen Ping pursues a career that offers different challenges to make her work interesting and worthwhile.

By Lynn Seah

When Ms Tan Yen Ping applied to study electrical engineering in the university, her decision hardly raised an eyebrow among her friends. In the 1990s, engineering was a highly popular course and many of her classmates from the science stream also opted for it.

Only her father was a little concerned, for there were not many women in this field. Still, when she stuck with her choice, he supported her.

Now at age 35, she has absolutely no regrets. Engineering has given her the career she wanted and more.

“I wanted work that was hands-on and not desk-bound and I got that,” she says.

More than that, it opened the door to an exciting industry – aviation. Since graduating from Nanyang Technological University, Ms Tan has been working at ST Aerospace, where she has progressed from engineer to principal engineer, before moving to a business development role this year.

The decade in engineering has been a fascinating one with varied experiences for her.

“Some people think that engineering is boring and technical. But there are many sides to the job,” she says. She dealt with avionics, the electronic systems on the aircraft. But her work did not just revolve around the office and hangar. She had to meet the pilots who were her customers. Occasionally, she attended trade shows like the Singapore Airshow, where she had to act as spokesperson for the company’s product. On some days, she may be working at a place like Seletar Airbase. On other days, she may be conducting tests in a field at night.

“The work environment is more varied than people realise,” she says, adding that her job also gives her a sense of fulfilment. “I’m a person who values job satisfaction. I got a lot of that, so it kept me going and going.”

Part of the satisfaction comes from being able to see and touch the results of her efforts. “We always have an end product to deliver. It’s very tangible. You actually see your design working as you press the button.”

The sense of fulfilment also comes from meeting customer’s demands. “When you have sorted out all the issues with a customer and the product gets his approval, it’s very satisfying,” she says.

But getting the customer’s nod can be difficult when things do not work as anticipated. Fortunately, Ms Tan enjoys the challenge of solving problems. Though it can be stressful at times, it never gets overwhelming because it is always a team effort, she says.

It can even be fun. She recalls fondly the occasions when her team had to work all night to get a job done. The bosses would bring supper and there was a sense of camaraderie.

During the test phase of a project, her working hours can be erratic. But with support from her family, the mother of two has been able to manage. However, with her eldest child about to enter Primary One, Ms Tan wanted more time in the evenings to coach her.

That was one of the reasons why she asked for a transfer. The other reason was that she wanted new challenges after doing engineering work for more than 10 years.

She was told when she joined ST Aerospace that it was possible for her to move from a technical role to a managerial one. When she finally made the switch recently, she was not disappointed. She is now doing marketing as a senior manager of programme development.

Her experience is not unique. She knows of many engineers who had moved into management, and some are in the top echelons of their organisations.

Thus far, her engineering degree has given her the career she wanted. Her father’s concern about the difficulties she might face as a woman in a male-dominated field did not come to pass. Even when she had to supervise male subordinates, she did not face any problems, she says. The only surprise came in her current role, which is a new position.

“When I asked for a transfer, I thought I would move into programme management and manage a project that has already been signed. I never thought I would be doing things like going for exhibitions and conferences and giving talks.”

Nonetheless, she says it is exciting and not an alien experience as she had been on duty at exhibitions and given briefings even as an engineer.

Her advice to young people entering the engineering profession is to keep an open mind and learn from experience on the job.

“Engineering is not just about technical skills. You need to have other skills to help you manage your team, to be able to speak well in front of customers. To be a good engineer, to make your engineering career interesting, all these aspects must come in,” she says.


Good prospects for engineering graduates

The outlook is bright for engineers entering Singapore’s aerospace industry or who are currently working in it.

“The prospects are good because Singapore is growing the aviation industry,” says Ms Tan Yen Ping.

Singapore is an international air hub and its aerospace industry has grown as an average rate of 12 per cent since 1990 to become the most comprehensive maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) hub in Asia.

Aerospace-related research and development (R&D) has also grown significantly over the last two years, with major aerospace companies establishing their R&D centres here. To support the development of the industry in Singapore, the 300-ha Seletar Aerospace Park will have activities such as aerospace MRO; design and manufacture of aircraft systems, components, and light aircraft; and a regional aerospace campus for education, research and training.

All these open up new job opportunities for engineering graduates. Ms Tan cites her company ST Aerospace, a subsidiary of mainboard-listed ST Engineering, as an example. She says, “You can remain in the technical field of move on to other roles. You can also go into different subsidiaries in ST Engineering. The opportunities are there. And if you really want to move, they help you plan and provide you with training, so you have the correct skills before you move on to your new role.”

 

(This article was originally published in The Straits Times)

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