Who I am today has a lot to do with my father. My wonderful dad. When I was a child, one of my earliest and fondest memories was sitting on his knee and him saying: ‘You can do and be anything you want Sarah – you’ll be the first girl in our family to go to university’. It’s these warm heartfelt words that have stayed with me.
My kind and gentle dad fulfilled his life and followed his dreams – and he wanted me to do the same. He left school at 14, after the teachers told him he wouldn’t achieve anything. All it did was spur him on. He started out building wooden yachts in Great Yarmouth and then, when his parents moved to West Yorkshire, he became a master weaver. But his real passion was to become a policeman. So that’s what he did. Some of my friends were very pleased he followed his dreams, because in their youth, he had to arrest them! He looked after them, gave them a second chance and made sure they stayed on the right path.
Although my dad was a traditionalist, he knew there would be a place in the world where girls could dream big and achieve anything their hearts desired. Over the years, my dreams took me from wanting to be an archaeologist, to physiotherapist. Eventually though, I ended up at university studying Mechanical Engineering – and I thrived. I absolutely loved it. Unfortunately, when I graduated, we’d just come out of a recession and jobs were very thin on the ground – especially for girls in engineering. It’s different now, but back then I knew I wasn’t being invited to interviews because of my gender. Frustratingly, my university male fellows, who had scored lower grades than me, were getting interviews – and jobs. Well, like my dad, that just made me even more determined.
In the end, I got my foot on the ladder in a sales engineering role, which then steered me a few years later into the quarrying industry, in an environmental role. What flipped me over to health and safety was a horrific fatality at a quarry. What awakened me – really struck me, was the investigation. It didn’t stop at the individual; the investigation stretched back 30 years and focused on how the equipment had been designed and modified, which resulted in the fatality. From an engineering perspective, I felt strongly that designing equipment for safety was the way to go – and it really resonated with me from a moral standpoint too. That was twenty years ago and my first insight into human factors and behaviours. I can honestly say, I’ve been truly hooked ever since.
Over the years, I’ve been employed in various health and safety roles, but I’ve always implemented a behavioural slant to everything I do – so much so, I scooped my first full behavioural role in 2010. Looking back, I learned so much from that role – including what works and what doesn’t. I realise now how forward thinking the company was to develop a role for behavioural change – and purely behavioural change. It was a big step change.
As time went on, I was keen to learn more about ‘why we do what we do’, so I completed a Post Grad Certificate in Human Factors, which increased my craving for knowledge in this field. The problem was, no matter how much I searched, I couldn’t find any relevant follow on courses in the UK. And then, in 2016, I received some devastating news. Suddenly and unexpectedly, my dad died, and it turned my world upside down. During the time I was off work, I reflected back to his warm words of encouragement ‘you can do anything and be anything’. It was when I returned to work, I realised that the job I was doing no longer satisfied me. So, I started my search again for a high-level course in behavioural safety. It turned out the psychology department at the University of Derby had just started an MSc in Behaviour Change in Occupational Health and Safety. I didn’t waste any time in applying – and was over the moon to be accepted.
For anyone who has worked full-time and studied part-time during the evenings and weekends, you’ll know that it’s a tough combination. It was three years of sheer hard graft. Nights out and my hobby in photography was traded for more than 150 weekends and countless nights of reading, writing and learning – but worth every penny I paid; and every sacrifice I made.
And here I am – at Broadhead Global, who just so happened to be searching for someone to join their expanding team, just as I was finishing my final year research paper in organisational culture and how it impacts morale. Sometimes, things just fall into place, don’t they. I know my dad would be super proud.
Written by Sarah Prince
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