INWED23: It’s Never too Late to Chase your Dream with the Army Reserves

Rachel peers through the car bonnet as she works on the engine

International Women in Engineering Day (IWED) is an opportunity to celebrate the amazing work that female engineers are doing around the world. The event seeks to shine a light on the fantastic contribution women make to the engineering industry, whilst only making up 20% of the workforce. This year IWED falls in Armed Forces Week so Lowland RFCA went along to 153 Recovery Company REME (Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers) to meet Corporal Rachel Dornan, a Reservist and mechanical engineer, to find out about her experience of being an engineer in the Reserves. 

Who are you and what do you do? 

My name is Cpl Dornan and I am a Reservist here in East Kilbride with 153 Rec Coy. I am about to complete my City and Guilds Heavy Vehicle Mechanic qualification with New College Lanarkshire. During my time as a Reservist I am a vehicle mechanic (VM) and I help the unit with recruitment. 

When did you become a Reservist?

I became a Reservist in 2006 when I was 18. I didn’t drive so I joined my local unit in the southside of Glasgow which was part of the Royal Logistic Corps (RLC). I tried to join as a VM because I had always been interested in engineering, but they didn’t have a space so I became a Logistics Specialist instead. 

Where has your Reservist journey taken you over the last seventeen years?

I stayed with the RLC for eight years which included a stint down south for work. During that time I did two operational tours of Afghanistan which were incredible experiences. I met some amazing people that I’m still in touch with. After returning from Afghanistan for a second time I joined the 105 Regiment Royal Artillery (RA) in Glasgow and became a Communications Specialist. That role included working on the radios and directing communications masts. The RA also covers the ceremonial duties at Edinburgh Castle, so I really enjoyed taking part in that. 

Rachel poses in front of Land Rover

How did you end up in the REME?

When COVID-19 hit I took a moment to reassess my life. At the time I was working in finance for a global bank, I had two small children, and as we all know, childcare costs a fortune. I had always wanted to be an engineer but never had the time or opportunity to train and get into it. Taking the plunge, I left the finance world and enrolled as a student on a Heavy Mechanics Course at New College Lanarkshire. Whilst I had really enjoyed my time with 105 RA, it made more sense to join 153 Rec Coy as a vehicle mechanic. 

What a life-change! Why? 

Two main reasons. Firstly I had always wanted to do it and it seemed like an opportune time while the kids were still small. Secondly I think when you have children you want to lead by example. I wanted them to see that it doesn’t matter when you do something, you’re never too old nor too young. I wanted them to see that it’s never too late to chase your dream!

Sometimes having children can put women off joining the Reserves or retraining. What would you say to them?

Don’t be put off! Being a Reservist is brilliantly flexible and can work around being a mum! With weekday training taking place in the evening, all I really miss is bed and bath time. Obviously everyone has a different family set-up but it is just as manageable as going to the gym or having a hobby. And the best part, you get paid for it! I also love being a Reservist because I get a much needed break from being ‘mum’. When I arrive at the Reserve unit or go on longer training exercises I’m not harassed with ‘mum, give me a snack’ or ‘mum, play with me’. I find the change of scenery, pace and routine a really helpful bit of me time! Additionally, if you’re a mum it can be hard to balance a job and training. However, with the Reserves you can join and get paid to train on the job! I would struggle to think of a more flexible set-up in the civilian world for a mum. 

Image of a MAN SVR truck (support vehicle recovery), about to be used to upright an upturned donor heavy goods vehicle in ‘field conditions’ by 2nd Battalion, Corps of The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers or (2 Close Support Battalion REME).
Photo: Crown Copyright

Where did this passion to pursue a career in engineering come from?

I have always been someone that enjoys practical tasks. Since I was young I had particularly strong problem-solving and spatial reasoning skills. For example, I have two older brothers and there’s a reasonable age gap. Without anyone showing me, I had figured out how to ride a bike before they had! I have just always been practically minded. This makes me ideally suited to engineering. It’s a really rewarding discipline because you constantly get to see progress. I also love it because it’s constantly evolving with new technology and design which forces you to continue learning!

Why are engineers so integral to the Army?

Without mechanical engineers we wouldn’t be able to function as an Army. We need to be able to effectively transport troops and kit in all sorts of terrains. If you don’t have working transport, how do you assist in conflict scenarios or with humanitarian aid? The vehicles we use are military which means you can’t rely on a civilian contractor to be able to assist; rendering military VMs essential. 

How has the Army helped you achieve your engineering dream?

The Army has helped me pursue my engineering passion in a few different ways. Firstly, the flexibility of earning income through being a Reservist has allowed me to go back and study engineering at college. Secondly, I get incredible hands-on training opportunities with the REME whilst being paid to be a Reservist. The training facilities that the Corps has are second to none and we get to make use of it all. It’s also great because I can gain additional engineering qualifications along the way. Finally, the Army opened up opportunities to me as a woman that I didn’t get in the civilian world. In the civilian world I’ve had a few comments suggesting I wouldn’t be capable of heavy vehicle mechanics due to being a woman. On one occasion I got turned down from work experience with a garage because of being female. But in the Army, it’s a level playing field. Doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman, if you meet the requirements and you get on with it, you’re in! 

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