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Kelly Clarkson - Engineer, Ford Motor Company

Kelly Clarkson engineer
'I like that my work revolves around vehicles and these vehicles become available to friends and family, and I know I played a part in them coming into the market.'

Kelly Clarkson works as an engineer in the safety team at the Ford Motor Company. She enjoys being involved in producing cars and particularly likes the culture at Ford.

Kelly believes the key to a successful career is pursuing work in an area that you’re passionate about: ‘It’s all about knowing where your interests lie – young people need to follow their interests so that they have a rewarding career.’

And she has found that sharing her name with a celebrity has helped her to stand out from the crowd: ‘The good thing is that people tend to remember my name!’

What do you do in your job?

I work in a team of 15, which is responsible for Vehicle Safety (structural crash performance and occupant protection). We primarily use computational engineering (computer-aided engineering, or CAE, tools are used to run a large number of simulated crash events) and physical testing to develop the vehicle safety systems.

There are many different requirements and targets that we need to meet in a vehicle crash program, ranging from regulatory requirements through to internal Ford requirements. A number of different crash models are analysed on Ford’s supercomputers and we are able to assess and improve design parameters analytically without wasting expensive prototype vehicles. Once the targets are met analytically we confirm the vehicles’ safety performance with a physical crash test. 

Are you present when they do testing with crash test dummies?

Yes – our role is to work with test engineers and request details such as how we would like the car and the dummy set up, what information we want back from the test, what instrumentation we want to put on the car and where to put the video cameras to get the best view for analysis of the crash event.

How long does a testing period typically take?

That really depends on the size of the program. Some programs will be very short in timeframe – maybe only a year, as opposed to a larger program which may go over many years. 

Over years – that’s a long time!

Yes it is, but we have a lot of milestones along the way. It may take a long time if you are designing a new platform but it’s quicker if you’re only doing a ‘face lift’ or minor changes to a product.

So what do you like best about your job?

I like that my work revolves around vehicles and these vehicles become available to friends and family, and I know I played a part in them coming into the market.

Is there anything about the job which is not so great?

Depending on which program you’re working on, sometimes the time it takes to finish a program can feel a little long. So if you’re on one of the larger scale programs it can be very exciting because you get to redesign a new car, but at the same time it takes a long time and you don’t get to see the results for many years.

Is automotive engineering very well paid?

It is equivalent to a mechanical degree - the pay is similar to that of a mechanical engineer.

What qualifications do you have?

I studied engineering – a Bachelor of Engineering (Automotive) at RMIT.

Why did you decide to get into engineering?

I always liked physics and maths, and when I was looking through the careers book to choose a career I happened to come across the automotive course. I researched it a little further and it sounded like it really suited my interests. 

What’s it like working at Ford?

One thing I like about it is that there is a lot of community involvement. Being a part of the graduate program, you get to be involved in fundraising, which I enjoy. Each employee has 16 hours of paid community time that they can use. Small groups or departments can organise a day out to help a charity such as tree planting – it’s a great team-building exercise and helps a good cause.

There are also on-site blood bank donations quarterly. So it’s not just about keeping busy with engineering, there are a lot of other things to be involved with.

How did you come to work at Ford?

In my last year of university I did a co-operative placement with Ford within their manufacturing area, and reapplied to the company for the graduate program after that.

The co-operative placement program at Ford is for six months or a year, and is usually completed just after your third year of university. It gives you a chance to get insights into the company and an understanding of whether the company and industry are the right fit for you.

What tips would you give on how to present yourself in the best light when applying for cooperative placement and graduate programs? 

It depends on what area of the business you want to work in. I suggest presenting yourself at career fairs and speaking to employees there to get the best tips. There are different attributes required for different functions. Generally you need a reasonably high standard of academic results and a broader skill set than just your engineering degree.

What skills and characteristics do you need to work in your area of engineering?

In our area you need to be a good communicator – that’s definitely a requirement because the job involves interfacing with so many different people and functions. You need to be able to articulate your requirements and also negotiate to get the best outcome for the product and ultimately the customer.

Are there many female engineers at Ford?

Currently in my team there are three female engineers, but when I first worked here I was the only one.

What’s it like to work in such a male-dominated industry?

I suppose it’s similar to the experience you have at university while studying engineering. It’s about the same percentage of females in the university program as in the workforce. I don’t personally find that there is any real difference between male and female engineers.

I think generally, the trend towards workplace equality is not about breaking down barriers for women but giving women the opportunity to choose any field of study, and not just the traditional nursing or teaching degrees that they may have been offered years ago. 

It all comes back to how well informed young people are and also if they have an interest in an area, no matter what the discipline is, so they are encouraged to go down that path. It’s all about knowing where your interests lie and knowing how to follow them to create a rewarding career. We don’t just want a certain gender split to make it seem like there is equality – it’s more about matching individuals to careers that they like and are interested in. 

Is there any advice you would give to young people who are looking to get into automotive engineering?

My advice would be to understand as much as you possibly can about what engineering is and what facet of engineering you really enjoy, and try to break into that area. The automotive industry has a lot of different areas and there are many roles that are not as technical as mine, such as project manager. There are plenty of options for people with different skill sets.

You share a name with somebody famous, do you ever get teased about it?

Surprisingly not as much as you think, a lot of people don’t realise straight away and they may come back to me a few months later and say they just noticed that I share my name with a famous singer. Some people click straight away, some don’t, but at least many people remember my name!

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