For the next in our new blog and video series, Your career in chemical engineering, we spoke to Yasmin Ali, Thaddeus Anim-Somuah and Tommy Isaac who explain what they enjoy about their roles in energy policy, chemicals manufacturing and hydrogen energy production. Plus, they give advice to those seeking career progression to managing people and large scale projects.
Their stories are in one of a six-part blog series sharing the career journeys of 18 chemical engineers, the key engineering skills that have helped them succeed and their practical tips for job hunting.
The journey so far
Fascinated by the energy sector, after completing a Master of Engineering degree at the University of Nottingham, UK, Yasmin secured a graduate role with E.ON. This included placements at UK power stations in different teams, such as environment and chemistry, and engineering and maintenance, as well as in Istanbul, Turkey in the international business expansion team.
She spent seven years with E.ON in various roles to support its utilities, oil and gas and district heating remits. She provided on- and off-shore engineering support for the Babbage gas production platform in the Southern North Sea. As a Development Engineer, she worked on various projects with responsibility including project and risk management, as well as additional innovation work investigating 3D printing technology in oil and gas. Her final role as a Control Room Manager saw her lead a team of six operators managing 70 energy centres supplying heat and hot water to more than 25,000 customers across the UK.
Yasmin was keen to explore a role that allowed her to have an overview of the energy sector, so identified and pursued the UK Government’s Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) as that place. Three years on, she thoroughly enjoys her role as Energy Innovation Programme Manager supporting her team of two to design and run energy innovation programmes to develop technology and solutions for industrial decarbonisation, including the £55 million Net Zero Innovation Portfolio Industrial Fuel Switching competition.
Thaddeus studied an undergraduate chemical engineering degree at the University of Manchester, UK sponsored by Proctor and Gamble while at the same time undertaking a three-year working placement with the consumer goods company.
With the knowledge and experience gained, he decided to follow his interest in the design and management of chemicals manufacturing. He joined international chemical company Croda’s graduate scheme and has moved through various roles with the company over the past nine years at its base in the Netherlands. This includes roles as a Process Engineer, Operations Shift Manager and his current one as Engineering Manager Projects, working on everything from optimising production unit capacity, dealing with site emergency response and process automation design, to managing and leading multidisciplinary teams across continents.
A sustainability advocate, he’s worked on many projects in biochemical innovation, and developing Croda’s Western Europe Business Strategy to improve optimisation and sustainable production. One of his projects aims to decrease the company’s emissions by 25%.
“This is my most exciting role yet, as it’s really looking at the future and long-term projects. It’s varied, but generally around innovation and sustainability,” he said.
Like Yasmin and Thaddeus, Tommy is keen on developing sustainable initiatives to help decarbonise the planet. Like them he is using his skills as a Chartered Chemical Engineer, but also as a Chartered Mechanical Engineer.
Tommy started his journey also completing a chemical engineering degree at the University of Manchester. His first role as a Quantitative Safety Engineer (Nuclear) at Atkins in Bristol saw him providing risk management for the UK’s fleet of nuclear reactor sites, before moving into the oil and gas industry as a Process Engineer with ExxonMobil. At its Fawley Refinery in Hampshire, he managed a portfolio of projects, including the optimisation and operational strategy for three major process units with a combined production of 10 kT per day to maximise economic return for its petrol and hydrogen production.
Keen to develop his passion for hydrogen, Tommy secured his role as a Principal Engineer with Progressive Energy, UK and over the last four years has been the project manager of HyDeploy, a £22m deployment project to develop the evidence base necessary to kickstart the hydrogen blending industry within the UK gas network in a bid to decarbonise it. This could ultimately reduce carbon savings equivalent to removing 2.5 million cars from the roads. Tommy’s career continues to grow taking a step up in as Head of Hydrogen Research as this blog was published.
Achievements and advice
They’ve each been recognised for their leadership and technical skills, and their passion for the profession.
Thaddeus volunteers for numerous organisations to support engineers and young people in developing their skills and the fight against climate change. This includes with IChemE’s members groups and Congress, an Ambassador for One Young World (a global forum for young leaders), and being an Executive Board Member for the European Federation of Chemical Engineering. For these efforts and his continued work overseeing engineering projects to optimise Croda’s operations – such as building a new €50m carbon-neutral plant – Thaddeus was recognised in the 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 list.
Tommy won the Young Industrialist Award at the IChemE Global Awards 2019 for his work to achieve the UK’s first hydrogen exemption granted by the Health and Safety Executive allowing Progressive Energy to inject hydrogen in the gas grid above the regulatory limit. He is also a published author in both industry technical magazines and peer reviewed journals.
Yasmin is a STEM ambassador and keen communicator of science and engineering, regularly volunteering for various organisations to make the public aware of the important skills of engineers. This has included key committees with IChemE, the Women’s Engineering Society, the Queen Elizabeth Prize, and the Spectris Foundation, championing equal opportunities for those with a passion for technology and desire to engineer a better world. She has written about engineering and energy for the BBC, the Metro and the Huffington Post among others, and has a regular careers feature series in The Chemical Engineer. Over the years she’s been shortlisted and awarded for her achievements, including most recently being listed as one of the Top 50 Women in Engineering: Sustainability by the Women’s Engineering Society.
But what helped them along the way?
Tommy recognises that the employees and the overall company culture can be a huge credit to helping a person succeed.
He said: “Once you find a company with the right cultural fit it really helps you achieve your ambitions personally and professionally. You shouldn’t be afraid to recognise when it isn’t the right fit and move accordingly.”
He added: “The best advice I could give anyone starting their career, is to find the right mentor. Finding the right mentor where you trust them and they trust you is incredibly important.
“The best mentors I’ve had throughout my career have been my bosses as they understand the full context of my career. If that’s not available to you, please look widely in your organisation as there are many people that are willing to help or look to IChemE who have mentors available through their Chartered Engineer scheme.”
Thaddeus admits he has had a steep learning curve for roles he’s undertaken over time and advised looking inwardly in the first instance. He said: “First, understand yourself – what motivates you; what are you good at. Then look at the opportunities out there and what matches that.”
Yasmin added: “Think about what you like to do and find some organisations that align with that. See if they’re advertising jobs or write speculative applications. Don’t just follow the crowd; be more targeted.”
Advice to those seeking career development
For those considering taking one step up in responsibilities or wishing to carve a pathway for their career progression, Yasmin and Tommy recommend being true to yourself and what you want to achieve, and to demonstrate these in applications and interviews.
Yasmin said: “If we are hiring, what I would look for in an engineer is a real and genuine passion for climate change solutions. That is what motivates me and my team to do the job we do.”
Tommy added: “What I look for when hiring an engineer are: an openness to learn, the ability to challenge the status quo, and the tact to do so while bringing everyone along with you.”
Although he has line management experience, Thaddeus has moved into supporting and liaising with a variety of people and stakeholders through his current role in managing large scale projects.
He advised chemical engineers seeking opportunities for progression to keep an open mind: “I didn’t see myself in my current role when I started at Croda as a graduate engineer. I thought now I’d be an operations manager or site director and grow in that direction. The future can always change.”
Watch this video to learn more from Yasmin, Thaddeus and Tommy on what engineering skills help them be a good manager, how IChemE has supported their career aspirations and why they feel chemical engineering is so important.