September 30 2020

Katie McGrath, Head of Engineering Excellence at National Express, has written an introduction to engineering, including her role in future-proofing the engineering department, trying new technologies to improve the customer experience, and why more girls should consider a career in engineering.

I am National Express’ Head of Engineering Excellence. What does that mean, exactly?

Well, I don’t have a typical day - and that’s one of the things I really like about this job. But at the heart of my role is looking at everything the engineers do and improving how we do it, future-proofing the department and using the sheer size of National Express to share best practice.

This is really important for our customers. Transport is an old and very tightly regulated industry, and of course everything has to be safe. I’m always pushing to see whether we can do things better, quicker, more efficiently - that way we can give our passengers better, quicker, more reliable bus services.

For example, at the moment, I’m working on digitising our workshops. So very soon, I hope National Express engineers will be working off tablets instead of the myriad bits of paper we use at the moment. They'll be doing vehicle inspections off a tablet - the job card will be on there, and they’ll be able to research difficult fixes online, or ask colleagues at another garage if they’ve faced this issue. Driver walkarounds will be going digital too.

Like most engineering teams, we did loads of work during lockdown as services were decreased and then ramped up again - taking hundreds of buses off the road, and then a few weeks later, getting them all back on the road again. That was a massive team effort - and I have to say, working as part of a team is my other favourite part of the job.

During lockdown, my team also trialled and introduced loads of new things. All new inventions you hear about could be amazing, but also they could be nonsense, so we have to fully assess the science. We did smoke tests to map the air flow in the drivers’ cab to keep them safe. We researched and tested the fogging machines to make sure we invested in the right ones, and organised all the training so our colleagues can use them safely. Before lockdown, we were busy tracing potential sources of fire and stopping that happening.

People don’t always realise how many opportunities there are in engineering. I’d really encourage all girls with a scientific or logical mindset to think about engineering. It’s such a rewarding career - one where you can really make a difference to customers’ everyday lives.

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