REAL LIFE: '˜I'm an aerospace geek!'

Meet the trailblazer inspiring the next generation of female engineers

Tuesday, 27th February 2018, 8:04 am
Updated Tuesday, 27th February 2018, 9:09 am
Kim Norris is an incredible young woman and won the Rising Star Award - awarded to women excelling in technology Picture by: Malcolm Wells (180222-7390)

The roar of a jet engine still gives Kim Norris goosebumps.

The young engineer is at the leading edge of aerospace technology.

At 26 she is one of very few female engineers in a male-dominated world and she’s making it her mission to change that.

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As a girl she joined RAF Air Cadets determined to become a pilot, just like her grandfather.

When she discovered she was too short, she simply said to herself: ‘If I can’t fly them, I’ll fix them.’

And that’s exactly what she does.

As a senior systems engineer at Lockheed Martin Kim’s job is to create aerospace systems which ensure the Royal Navy remains at the forefront of technological advances.

‘I may not be a pilot but I still get to be around aircraft’ she says.

‘They are such impressive pieces of equipment.’

Such is Kim’s contribution to engineering that she was given the Rising Star award at the annual FDM Everywoman in Technology Awards.

It’s an incredible accolade and recognises her enormous achievements in the industry.

And it all started when she was just a girl. She says: ‘I joined the air cadets when I was 13. My mum had always said I had to join because she had not been allowed to as a child.

‘Her best friend did join and became one of the first females to do so.

‘The RAF Air Cadet organisation is now incredibly inclusive. Everybody can do every role, they do not distinguish between genders.

‘Being in the cadets was a major contributory factor for me going into engineering. I’d already experienced fast jets and helicopters.

‘I went on the annual RAF camp and it taught me team work and military skills. I get really excited about jets. I’m am aerospace geek.’

Kim secured an RAF scholarship to Wellbeck Military College aged 16 and went on to read aerospace technology at Coventry University.

She studied maths, mechanics, the principles of flying and computer processing – one of only three females in a year group of 50.

She says: ‘It was an absolutely fantastic course – very hands-on and practical.

‘We were shown how things worked and how to problem-solve.

‘That is what engineering is about. It’s solution-finding. Being able to look at an issue and working out a way to solve it. Engineering is a constant puzzle.’

All the while she has stayed in the air cadets where she has reached the rank of pilot officer.

Kim, who lives in Hayling Island, wants to change the ratio of men-to-women in the industry.

She says: ‘There is absolute equality of opportunity, regardless of gender. But it takes more female students to study the tech subjects to be able to take the jobs. We will always pick the best candidates for the job, but we need a wider female pool.’

Kim talks with passion and enthusiasm about her job. It’s not surprising considering some of the projects she has been involved in.

At her previous firm, Leonardo, she was seconded for four months to the Royal Navy. Part of that was designing search and rescue technology in the Unmanned Warrior exercise in the Outer Hebrides.

She was part of a team creating the next generation of sensory capability technology.

She moved to Lockheed Martin, in Langstone, in September 2017, uprooting from the home she shares with her partner Chris Robson, also an engineer, to further her career.

She says: ‘I’m working on a Royal Navy helicopter project and I’m absolutely loving it.

‘People are always surprised about what I’m working on. It’s very leading-edge technology. Being female and doing it also comes into play.’

‘But because I’m so interested in aircraft I needed to be closer to the Royal Navy to make a real difference.’

Kim’s hero is Rachel Parsons. She became the director of her father’s engineering company at the outset of the First World War and trained women to fill technical roles to replace the men who had left to fight.

She was also a founding member of the Women’s Engineering Society.

‘A lot of what we’re doing now to get women into engineering, goes back to her.

‘Engineering is a fantastic career. But I think we need to start talking to girls about STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) in primary school. Thirteen is too late.

‘With things like female Lego scientists figures, Lego robot competitions and coding clubs in schools we are going in the right direction.’

Kimberley Norris received the Rising Star award at the FDM Everywoman in Technology Awards – which recognises the brightest individuals in technology.

Kim says: ‘I was amazed, incredibly proud, and humbled.’

What should young women do if they are thinking about a career in engineering?

She says: ‘For a start, you don’t have to do a degree. You can do an apprenticeship combining work experience and studying.

‘But if you want to do a degree, go for it. A degree in engineering will set you up for life. I know people are put off by maths but don’t be.

‘I’ve used a calculator two or three times, that’s all. There is so much more to engineering than that. You can go pretty much your whole career without using high-tech maths.

‘I’ve worked in Italy, Germany, and worked with many different people.

‘Engineering is about working as a team. There is very little working on your own. Everyone contributes and it’s fantastic.’