Back to overview / 29.12.2023

“It’s high time more women worked in this profession.”

With its Railway Summer Camp, the Swiss rail industry is encouraging the next generation of engineers to jump on board. Celina Spiess is one of them, and in this article, she tells us about her experiences, which led to her landing a place on Swiss Federal Railway’s 18-month trainee engineer programme.

Would you like to be part of the Railway Summer Camp?

Click here for the event.

Primary school, secondary school, sixth form, university and, coming soon, a career as an electrical engineer. Actually, it didn’t happen quite as quickly and easily as that. But I have my destination in my sights and I’m on the home stretch. After handing in countless lab reports, homework assignments and projects, you find yourself pondering an important question: where do I want to work when I graduate? Of course, you chat with your fellow students about career options and you soon find that everyone has their own ideas about where their own journey will take them – and that’s a good thing.

Celina Spiess studied electrical engineering at HEIA-FR in Fribourg. She took part in the 2022 Railway Summer Camp, going on to start the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) trainee programme in autumn 2023.

Being lucky enough to get a place on the Railway Summer Camp in 2022, I got to know lots about the railway sector and the different professions that play a part in the industry. Growing up in Switzerland, SBB is a household name for me. There’s a station in every town, railway lines are everywhere, and every now and again you hear the sound of a passing train. For some people, travelling by train is a rare experience, and for others it’s part of their daily commute. But there’s a lot more to catching a train than simply climbing on board and getting under way. SBB is backed by countless other businesses, each one doing their bit to keep the trains on the track and on time.

For that to happen, you need to have the trains in the first place, of course, but you also need to keep the tracks in good repair. Who knew that there are actually machines designed solely to keep the track ballast in tip-top condition, just so we can travel safely by train every day? In short, I found the week I spent on the Railway Summer Camp absolutely fascinating and it made me really want to become part of an industry that keeps Switzerland moving. It is important to me that my engineering career is in a meaningful field and, if possible, working in something tangible and sustainable – and in my view that’s precisely what the rail industry offers. So I ended up applying for the SBB training programme – and to my delight I was offered a place! So, in autumn 2023, I’m going to be joining the SBB family and I’m thrilled to have been given this opportunity. Over a period of 18 months, I’ll be getting experience of the various areas in which SBB operates, acquiring the knowledge that will enable me to figure out what I find most interesting – and then hopefully make my chosen field into my career.

As a recent engineering graduate, I see this as an opportunity to gain a foothold in the industry. Mobility is an important part of all our lives but one that has a major impact on the climate. That’s why it’s so important to move away from using fossil resources as far as possible and choose more sustainable alternatives – such as travelling by train instead of by car. As we’ve grown up, we in the new generation have had a different experience to our parents. We were taught about climate change in primary school, and the uncertainties about our future have hit us hard. We have a new and different view of the world and, as a result, different ideas too, which will hopefully enable us to make a lot of changes. But what’s important now is that we are listened to and taken seriously.

As I mentioned, I’m soon going to be able to say that I’m an engineer – and that’s still not something you hear from many women these days. It’s high time more women worked in this profession. I chose to study engineering because I find technology really interesting.

Sadly, I don’t have any stories about how I was fascinated by technology and spent all my time taking electronic devices apart when I was little.

When I was at secondary school, I found that I enjoyed maths and discovered that physics wasn’t nearly as boring as everyone said. So I decided to study electrical engineering at university. I just assumed everyone would be interested in knowing how a TV works, why birds don’t get an electric shock when they land on an overhead power line, or how we get electricity in our homes. Although in the last three years I’ve got used to spending nearly all of my time studying at uni with men, it’s no surprise that – as a woman – I’ve wondered what it’s going to be like working in this male-dominated field. Will my engineering colleagues take me seriously?

Am I going to have to prove myself more than my male peers have to? And what about equal pay for equal work? In the next few years I’ll no doubt get answers to these questions.

I’m delighted to be starting work in the public transport sector and to have the chance to bring my ideas to the industry – I have my whole future ahead of me. And who knows, perhaps there will soon be more women keen to make their mark as engineers in Switzerland?

Would you like to be part of the Railway Summer Camp?

Click here for the event.