Tom Hlaing cycling on the road

Tom Hlaing - Manager in the marine sector of Rolls Royce

1. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I always wanted to be a doctor. Growing up with both parents in the medical profession  - my father was a doctor and my mother a nurse - I always thought that I would follow in their footsteps.

2. Who or what inspired you to become an engineer?

My parents always encouraged my interest in “seeing how stuff was put together”. Engineering made sense as a profession (academic and career) as it was a natural follow on to my interest in STEM subjects.

3. Tell us a little bit about your role. What does your typical day involve?

I am an improvement manager and look after making our processes and people more safe, efficient, cost effective and productive. A typical day will involve attending and/or chairing review meetings, spending time on the shop floor with the people who add value (the operators); to understand their issues and opportunities as well as to see the changes that have been implemented on site (operations, IT, logistics). Occasionally there will be meetings with customers to ensure that budgets and programmes are on track as well as technical issues.

4. What do you love about your job and what would you change?

I love that I have direct involvement and influence in all of our products. I also love that what I do effects people, process and the customer directly. It is with great pride when I go to a port and see a Rolls-Royce engine on an aeroplane or vessel, knowing that there are parts inside that I have either made or influenced.

There isn’t anything I would change about the type of engineering that I do!

5. What qualifications did you take at school/college?

I have 11 GCSEs and 4 A Levels, as well as an MEng in manufacturing engineering and management.

Tom Hlaing

6. Did you go to university? Was a degree required for your role?

I went to Nottingham University before I gained my first job as a graduate engineer at Rolls-Royce, which required at least an MEng at 2:1 as standard.

7. What gives you the most job satisfaction?

I enjoy making a difference using my engineering knowledge and skills to fix problems. It is really satisfying to work with people and make their workplace work better for them so that they can do the things they really want to.

8. What’s the most unexpected thing about your job?

People think I make cars, as I work for Rolls-Royce. But the company I work for stopped making cars in the 1970s. We actually make aero engines for civil and defence planes, equipment for the commercial marine industry (winches, thrusters, diesel engines) and also support the UK submarines fleet.

I have also managed to travel the world with work and have filled an entire passport up with visas and stamps! Singapore, Vietnam, Norway, Finland, Poland, Hong Kong, Germany, France, USA and across the UK (Derby, Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle, Glasgow) are just a few of the places I have been lucky enough to visit.

9. If you could give one piece of advice to a young person who is considering becoming an engineer, what would it be?

Don’t worry about the job title (e.g. chief engineer, COO), focus on getting involved in work that is interesting to you. Engineering is a very wide discipline and there are plenty of roles that you may do that could be boring and dull BUT plenty more that are the BEST THING EVER! Do not be locked into thinking that there are only electrical, mechanical, civil or even aerospace engineering roles. There is so much more! The type of engineering I do is production or manufacturing engineering. But I have worked in programme management, engineering improvement and also technical business improvement.

Also, don't become arrogant and dismiss non-engineers. People with skills in marketing, HR, finance, logistics, project management etc., are equally as important to the success of any project. Yes, an engineer with their technical analytical mind set is essential, but teamwork and communication skills are essential to the project as a whole with each individual team member bringing unique qualities and assets to a programme.

10. Do you have any hobbies that you like to do to relax?

I love food and travelling. So my job has helped in that I’ve been able to live for extended periods across the globe. In the summer I like to play cricket, but I have managed to play cricket in the middle of “winter”; opening the batting in Singapore for the British club in the first week of December.

11. Would you say that you had a good work/life balance?


12. What would it surprise people to know about you?

I fly hot air balloons……

13. What excites you most about engineering?

That it, along with the world is ALWAYS changing and the pace of change seems to be getting quicker. No one really knows what the world will be like in 10 years time. Today it would be unthinkable not to have access to portable technology (smart phone/tablet) or to be able to connect to the internet anywhere in the country (4G, free WiFi), to be able to fly anywhere in the world in less than 24 hours (budget airlines, on-line booking).

It wasn't that long ago when a phone would just make calls and texts, the internet needed a telephone line (dial up!!) and that you needed to be quite wealthy to have access to transport (planes, trains, ships and cars).

Engineers are problem solvers and there will always be problems to be solved!