Kelly Morton shares her career journey to Impellam STEM Portfolio CEO
If you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I was younger, I would have said a Vet. The youngest child, and only girl, from a working-class family in Liverpool, my ambitions were simply to succeed. While I’m still on my journey, I wanted to share my career story in light of our recent partnership launch with social mobility charity In2scienceUK, and to show that no-one’s journey to success is single-handed.
The Impellam STEM portfolio (Lorien, SRG and Carbon60) and In2scienceUK will be supporting young people from low socio-economic backgrounds to pursue a career in STEM through industry and research-based placements and skills workshops. Learn more about our partnership here.
As you’ll see from my story, that’s an initiative that is very close to my heart.
My career journey
I loved STEM subjects from an early age, I particularly had a passion for maths and chemistry. I never particularly enjoyed the academic side of leaning, and after leaving school I took a job as a laboratory assistant. The company sponsored me to complete my HNC at a local college one day a week, and I worked around the clock – one day at college, in the labs four days a week and working at B&Q at the weekend. All to save up to buy a £600 Mini so I could get around and be independent!
Two years later I joined Solvay – a multinational chemical company – and worked my way up from Laboratory Technician to Research Chemist. Solvay sponsored me to attend university one day a week to do a degree in chemistry, something I’m not sure I ever would have had the confidence to pursue for myself. I became the first generation in my family to go to university.
After the business relocated to Belgium, I decided it was time for a change. I wanted to do something that involved people but was still close to science. And that’s how I entered the recruitment industry! I started with a small independent recruitment company as a resourcer and left two years later after setting up a successful scientific recruitment division to join SRG.
From the beginning, I really believed in SRG’s vision. SRG hires ex-scientists – people that know the industry and the market inside out – and trains them up into consultative recruitment roles. Because the people know and love the industry, it is really easy for them to identify the right opportunities for the right people.
I started as a Regional Manager, which petrified me as I didn’t have much experience of managing large teams… but I kept saying to myself ‘what doesn’t break you will make you stronger’. The team and I worked incredibly hard to put SRG Manchester on the map, I met some great people who helped me on my way, and I still have contact with these people today, although many have retired. A couple of years later I was promoted to Regional Director in the North, and then UK Director of Science and Engineering. I also had my son Joseph in that period which provided a fresh new challenge!
I was promoted to Managing Director of SRG in 2009. I remember thinking that I had my work cut out for me, we were muddling through a global recession and very few people were hiring. I made some structural changes and thankfully the market soon bounced back, enabling us to triple our revenue over three years.
Then, 18 months or so ago, I was given the amazing opportunity to take on two additional STEM brands in Impellam – Lorien (technology and digital) and Carbon60 (engineering). I became the STEM Portfolio CEO and I’ve loved every minute of it; I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible people and I’m really excited about our future.
But I couldn’t have done this alone.
I’m very fortunate to have met people who believed in me throughout my career – sometimes more than I believed in myself. In particular, I’m indebted to Peninsula Laboratories and Solvay for sponsoring me to complete my education. Without Solvay, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to university. I’ve also had the privilege of working with some incredible people. Dr Craig Jones, who I worked with at Solvay, deserves special mention because he was a fantastic mentor. He came from a similar working-class background to me, and he really took me under his wing.
Impellam Group has also been a great place for me to develop. Impellam Group has a strong leadership team that is full of powerful, inspiring women. In fact, just last year four of us made the notable SIA Power 150 – Women in Staffing list. This month we celebrated International Women’s Day across the business, with guest speakers, panels, and networking.
My experience has underlined the value of role models. Recognition, representation, and sponsorship of people from underrepresented backgrounds helps us to see our possibilities – and I hope to be that for someone else one day too.
I’m very open about the fact that I’ve struggled with imposter syndrome throughout my career. Every role I’ve ever taken, including this one, I’ve felt sick with the idea that no-one would take me seriously. Self-belief can be quite difficult to achieve, especially if you’re from a minority background where you can’t see yourself in those upper echelons of business. My first role in the laboratory was male dominated and I was the only female project manager without a PhD. I used to feel like I couldn’t do things because I wasn’t rich, I didn’t have a posh accent or an academic background. Imposter syndrome, if you let it get to you, can be crippling.
I’ve learnt over the years that the best way to beat imposter syndrome is by being true to yourself. I know that sounds cheesy, but there honestly isn’t any point being a fake version of yourself; it’s exhausting. Imposter syndrome can also be valuable – it can give you grit and determination, but it can also ground you. Humility is a much-underestimated quality.
My advice to anyone reading this is that if I can do it, so can you.
The STEM sector
I might have moved away from working directly in the STEM industry, but my heart never left the sector. STEM is such an exciting place to work – you can impact real-world problems like fighting cancer, tackling climate change, or connecting people across the world.
Crucially, it’s a sector that is growing quickly and is hungry for talent. The IET is predicting a STEM skill shortage of 173,000 roles in the UK, and that means more opportunities, better pay, and more flexibility for people that want to join the industry. In fact, a recent study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that some of the university courses with the highest mobility rates were in STEM.
So why not try it out? It might be your first step to a long, successful, and happy career.
My career journey might not be the most conventional, but I have been very fortunate with the opportunities I have been given. I want to return that favour, and I hope we can do that with our new partnership with In2scienceUK. I am really looking forward to reading the stories that come from the next generation of STEM specialists.