Women in Engineering

Lih-Ling Highe, Field Engineer

Field engineering manager, Tottenham Court Road Station, Crossrail

Why did you decide to go into engineering/infrastructure?

There was definitely a family influence as my father and two siblings are mechanical engineers. At one point, all three of us were working for Bechtel at the same time. When I was a child, I had ideas of being an astronaut or a medical engineer but I ended up studying mechanical engineering.

Describe your job

I’m responsible for a team of field engineers who help to ensure that the work on Tottenham Court Road Station is delivered to the standard of quality that our customer expects. The team helps contractor companies working at the site to carry out their work efficiently, and to comply with necessary procedures. My team also covers mechanical, electrical and public health systems. Part of our work involves helping coordinate the ‘interfaces’ between contractors delivering different types of work including signalling systems and tunnel ventilation. A large part of my job is to help resolve multi-disciplinary issues, for example a technical problem that could have commercial implications.

What did you study? How did that lead to this career?

I gained a degree in mechanical engineering. I knew it would give me the flexibility to take my career in many different directions, which is what I wanted.

Who was your first employer and why?

After completing my university studies, I wanted to take a gap year abroad. So I moved to Singapore, where I worked for a mechanical seals company.

CV highlights since

When I returned to the UK, I joined Bechtel’s graduate scheme, and have stayed with the company ever since. For almost a decade, I worked in the oil, gas and chemicals industry. I started as a process systems engineer, working on designs for petrochemical plants. My job was based in London but the projects I worked on were overseas, including India’s Reliance Jamnagar project (the largest refinery and petrochemicals complex ever built when it was completed in 2000). I also carried out a 14-month stint in Houston, US. After returning to London, I moved into the project controls field. This included working on bids to win new work in the oil, gas and chemicals sector. It gave me a different perspective on the engineering and construction industry. After having my first child, I entered the civil engineering sector. I worked on the High Speed 1 rail project in the UK, in central project controls, focusing on risk management. I loved being so close to the project that I was helping to build – it was right outside my window! After having my second child, I returned to High Speed 1, but took on the new role of field engineer, working on the iconic St Pancras Station. The next project I worked on was Crossrail. I started as a cost engineer, then worked as an interface manager with London Underground and London Overground. I’ve been at Crossrail’s Tottenham Court Road Station since then.

Jamnagar Oil Refinery, India

Did you have a career plan? How has reality panned out against that plan?

Like a lot of people, I’ve had different plans at various stages of my career. When I worked in the petrochemical industry, I never thought I would leave it. But each time I gained experience in a new area, it opened up different fields that I had never previously considered. So my career has gone down a different route to what I first envisioned when I started working, but I am so glad to be where I am now. 

Who has had the most influence over your career and why?

Ailie MacAdam. She’s Bechtel’s general manager for Infrastructure - Europe and Africa. I first met Ailie when I started at Bechtel as a graduate. Years later, we worked together on High Speed 1 in the UK, where Ailie was the project manager. She suggested that I widen my experience beyond project controls, and that’s the reason why I now work in construction.

What about work gets you interested, keeps you interested?

Working on a project like Crossrail is incredibly motivating because of its immensity. It’s going to improve the lives of millions and leave a positive legacy that should last at least 120 years. I’ll have left behind a project that really is going to make a big difference.

What can employers offer to make you most happy in your career?

Fulfilling work, which, in itself, brings rewards. As an employee, you have to take responsibility for your own happiness in your career, and find your own opportunities for growth. Personally, I enjoy giving back to the community, and have volunteered with First Lego League, as part of Bechtel’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) stewardship programme.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Get as much experience as you can. Always look for your next challenge. Collect several mentors who can give you different perspectives. 

What is special about Bechtel and why have you stayed/did you move here?

All of my colleagues seem to have a problem-solving mind set, and that makes for a positive working environment. I also think Bechtel’s vision, values and covenants make the company special. They provide excellent parameters for us to work within, and make it a positive, safe and fulfilling place to work.

What kind of career do you believe engineering offers women?

A brilliant career! When I was younger, some women tended to want to go into chemical or environmental engineering because they wanted to change the world for the better. But I think that engineers in any discipline have fantastic opportunities to make a huge difference as part of a bigger team. Engineering projects require diverse thinking, so it’s important that women are part of them to provide their perspectives.