As we celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, Laura Fleming chats about her experience as an apprentice for NIE Networks.
Laura Fleming is an Overhead Lines Engineer with NIE Networks and has just qualified from her apprenticeship.
Give a brief outline of your career to date.
Whilst studying for my degree in Psychology at Ulster University I had a few part-time jobs including working as a lifeguard and also as a receptionist. I really enjoyed the variety and I learnt so many new skills especially in providing great customer service. During my final year at university I applied to become an Overhead Lines Apprentice with NIE Networks which was something entirely different from what I was studying, but I knew it was the career I was looking for. I have just finished the apprenticeship and I’m now a fully qualified Overhead Lines Engineer – it’s such a great feeling.
How did you get into your area of work?
During my final year of university I came to the realisation that a career in the field of Psychology wasn’t for me. I wanted a career that was more hands-on and practical, with a variety of learning and disciplines. After researching various options, I came across the NIE Networks Apprenticeship Programme and everything about the field of electrical engineering as a career choice fitted exactly what I was looking for. I had never considered an apprenticeship previously and had always thought it was a career path aimed more towards males, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. More and more females are opting for apprenticeships and especially in engineering.
What are the main personal skills your job requires?
Good interpersonal and clear communication skills, as well as being organised, are definitely the most valuable attributes. I require the support of multiple teams internally to deliver my job so being able to engage with colleagues at all levels and think ahead to ensure I have arranged everything I need, is very important. It’s a very high-risk environment so it’s critical that I am able to communicate clearly and equally listen to instructions. Good inter-personal skills are also vital as I am engaging with customers on a daily basis and it’s important I deliver the highest standard of customer service and behave as an ambassador for the company.
What does a typical day entail?
My team and I work across Northern Ireland and travel each day to wherever the work is required, so a lot of pre-planning and organisation goes into a typical day for me.
Depending on the nature of the work we are carrying out we start off by selecting the appropriate protective clothing we require and then conduct a site-specific risk assessment. We then go through the risk assessment with the full team to ensure everyone is aware of the specific details. Communication is a key part of our work to ensure everything runs smoothly and safely. We then prepare the tools and equipment needed and begin carrying out our work, which can be anything from refurbishing overhead lines equipment to replacing a pole. I have found from the beginning that no two days are the same, which means you are learning on the job every day and it keeps things interesting.
What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?
The best aspect of the job is the variation. Every week brings something new, whether that’s the type of work we are carrying out, a different place or a new customer. It means the learning never stops and you feel there is always a new energy about the role.
The most challenging aspect for me personally is the physical side of the job but I have always remained determined never to let any challenge feel too big. I have been able to perform tasks I previously never thought possible and that’s been helped by the support and encouragement I’ve received from my team.
Why is what you do important?
Playing my part in providing a safe and reliable electricity network for customers is extremely important to me. I’m also part of an industry that is undergoing major change, with the demand for renewable energy increasing and working towards a zero carbon future, it’s an exciting time to be involved and there’s going to be plenty of varied projects to work on in the future.
What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?
If you are thinking of a career in engineering – go for it! The opportunities are endless and can lead you to a career where you are constantly learning and growing particularly at a time where electrical engineering is at the forefront of developing technologies. I can’t wait for what is ahead.
And finally, what’s the key to any successful job search?
Research. Without looking at different companies and comparing what was on offer I never would have discovered the NIE Networks Apprenticeship. I found a role that gave me a practical learning experience, all while earning a salary, in a field of engineering that is innovating and evolving every day. Now I’ve qualified my salary has doubled and I have a life-long exciting career ahead. Not every company offers that!
About Energy Networks Association
Energy Networks Association (ENA) is the industry body representing the electricity wires, gas pipes and energy system in the UK and Ireland.
ENA helps its members meet the challenge of delivering electricity and gas to communities across the UK and Ireland safely, sustainably and reliably.
Its members include every major electricity and gas network operator in the UK and Ireland, independent operators, National Grid ESO which operates the electricity system in Great Britain and National Gas which operates the gas system in Great Britain. Its affiliate membership also includes companies with an interest in energy, including Heathrow Airport and Network Rail.
What are energy network operators?
Energy network operators manage and maintain the wires, pipes and other infrastructure which delivers electricity and gas to your home, business and community. They are private companies which are regulated by Ofgem and employ around 40,000 people in Great Britain.