Born and raised in Hong Kong, Janice Man first knew she wanted to be an engineer at secondary school and began to focus her studies on relevant subjects such as maths and physics. After completing a BEng in electronic engineering, she made her first overseas move, relocating to Liverpool, UK to complete a master’s degree.
“I planned to take a master’s degree somewhere in the US or UK and decided on the UK as the course takes a year to complete there, whereas it’s two years in the US. I applied to a number of universities and got three offers: London, Manchester and Liverpool. I decided upon Liverpool as I was a fan of the football club,” she laughs.
On completion of her studies, Janice took her first job locally, joining software tool company LDRA. This was her first introduction to the aerospace industry, and when she began to look for her next role she knew this was the sector she wanted to work in.
Making a bad career move
It was at this stage that Janice faced her first real career dilemma when she discovered the move she’d made might not have been the right decision.
“At the new job I was again working as a software engineer, but it was hard to begin with as it was my first time working on safety-critical software,” she explains. “There were lots of constraints for writing software and I needed to learn how to use a lot of new tools in a short period of time. I also found that I wasn’t able to cope with the company’s culture and politics and after two years I was made redundant.”
Working as an engineering contractor
Janice’s move into contracting was made out of necessity rather than choice, however, she found that it gave her some great opportunities, including the chance to work with new people, learn new skills and travel to different cities and countries. She’s also had the chance to see how a wide variety of companies - including large organisations like BAE Systems - work.
However, she’s the first to admit that contracting can be a real rollercoaster of highs and lows.
“Moving into contracting is good when it comes to income, that’s for sure, but on the minus side, we have no career path or stability. However, taking a look at my industry, there isn’t much security in a permanent post anyway! But there is the issue of not having a real chance to progress up the career ladder,” she notes.
“Another negative point is that we lose all the benefits employees get such as a pension, sick leave and holidays etc. but, considering our hourly rates, the loss can be minimal or even nothing if we work hard enough!”
Dealing with periods of unemployment
There is also the fact that roles aren’t permanent, and Janice has had to deal with periods of unemployment between jobs.
“The first thing I told myself when I lost my [first] contract was to take a deep breath and calm down. I put the news aside, concentrating on my work for a day or two and then started planning what to do. I began to search recruitment websites to get a feel for the current market and respond to recruitment emails,” she says.
Janice also notes that developing a network can also make a huge difference to engineering contractors’ work opportunities.
“I always keep in touch with my sub-contracting friends and help them as much as I can. Because, at the end of the day, when you need help, they will help you as well,” she explains.
How to make working overseas a success
During her career, Janice has had the chance to work in England, Northern Ireland and Germany. With every new contracting role she’s, of course, had to gain the correct knowledge for the work, however adapting to different cultures has also been another challenge, but one she’s clearly enjoyed.
“Adapting to the German culture has been a great challenge, and the way I used to communicate with my colleagues didn’t work at all! It took me a while to readjust myself to this new environment, but I enjoyed working there,” she says. “After a contract back in the UK, I wanted to return to Germany and therefore found another contract in the country.
“Working in different countries is good because you can learn about new cultures and how people’s attitudes differ. This allows us to broaden our own horizons,” she continues. “In the engineering world we don’t just work in local teams, but also internationally, so working in this way gives me the opportunity to communicate with international colleagues more effectively and understand how to better deal with any cultural conflicts in the work environment.
“However, working in different countries can be difficult as there’s so much change to deal with. The best way to cope is to be very self-motivated and take the initiative. Also, try to make friends with the local community instead of only hanging around with expats,” she adds.
How IET membership can support engineering contractors
One thing that has stayed constant throughout Janice’s career has been her involvement with the IET. As an international organisation, there have been local networks that she’s been able to make contact with wherever she’s been based.
An active member, she’s also been able to gain skills through volunteering that she’s been able to use in the workplace.
“I got involved with the IET Mersey and Western Cheshire Local Network’s Younger Members group and was elected as a vice-chairperson and then later chairperson,” she says proudly. “I learnt a lot of skills from this such as leadership, team management and budget control - all of which have benefited me in my day job.
“No matter where you work, the IET is with you,” she continues. “I’ve been through many highs and lows in my career and it has been great having the IET to turn to, to attend events and share my experiences with others. Sometimes people have given me great advice that has helped me get through those bad situations.”