At Northern Powergrid we have a diverse range of heroes in our business from different backgrounds and genders who have dedicated their careers to help power everyday life for millions of customers across the North East, Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire.
This International Women in Engineering Day we want to give an insight into some of our female engineering heroes who work as part of #TeamPowergrid and are showing why engineering is a career opportunity for all.
If you love to problem solve, are interested in maths and science and are fascinated by understanding how things work then you could be a future engineer.
Here are some of our engineers talking about their career pathways and life at Northern Powergrid.
Rachael Thomas – Network Control Engineer Trainee
Rachael joined Northern Powergrid four years ago and works as part of our team of engineers who manage our High Voltage and Extra High Voltage electricity network. As guardians of this vital part of our network, her work entails actively monitoring it to ensure the region’s electricity distribution system operates safely. Rachael switches live electricity through alternative routes on the network so that Northern Powergrid’s frontline teams can carry out planned maintenance and investment work safely. Once fully trained, Rachael will have a key role in fault situations, making vital decisions that help isolate faults to minimise the impact and move electricity around our network to help get customers back on supply in a power cut as soon as possible.
After working in a number of roles after leaving school and having a family, Rachael decided to return to education. She started out doing a Teaching and Special Needs qualification but soon realised this was not for her so decided to change to Mechanical Engineering and an HNC in Electrical Engineering where she achieved distinctions in every module.
We asked Rachael for her advice to future generations, she said: “Stick in with your STEM subjects and it will open so many doors to your career. Thanks to Northern Powergrid presenting at my college I got an insight into the opportunities and decided to go for it. I have never looked back. I am training to become a Network Control Engineer. This will include working shifts which means I can balance being a full time working mum with school age children and help power people’s everyday lives.”
Clare Roberts – Connections Input Services Operations Manager
Clare Roberts joined Northern Powergrid more than 30 years ago as a Clerical Trainee and went on to hold number of administrative roles before venturing directly into the world of engineering where she has worked for the last 25 years.
With the support of the company, Clare received the training she needed to go on to become a Design Technician then a Design Engineer, which included creating parts of Northern Powergrid’s Extra High Voltage network. In 2001 Clare won the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year award and more recently she was the project lead for our award-winning AutoDesign tool which enables customers to get free budget estimates and see the best locations to connect to our network. This tool is key to supporting customers and local authorities looking to connect EV charging points to our network and support the region in achieving net zero.
Clare is passionate about encouraging diversity in the energy sector and has dedicated time to volunteer to talk with pupils about engineering. Her love of engineering resulted in her becoming the inspiration for a young woman who decided to go on to university to study engineering. She knows that helping plant the seeds about future career opportunities is not just personally rewarding – it can help inspire more female students to choose engineering in the years ahead.
In her current role, Clare leads a team of technical and non-technical colleagues to ensure effective competition in the market for new electricity connections. Speaking about her career journey and the importance of diversity, Clare said: “I have been supported at work to progress my career which has helped me fulfil my potential. In return this investment in me has benefited Northern Powergrid and the services we provide for our customers. Diversity in the workplace is key. It increases employee morale and instils a desire to be more effective and work more efficiently as part of a bigger team. Different people bring different skills to the table which is good for the company and for individual learning. Engineering has helped bring STEM subjects to life and with climate change and major developments in creating a greener energy network, it’s a really interesting time to join the sector. If you’re the kind of person who loves problem solving and innovation then there is no better time to build a brilliant career in engineering.”
Kendra Burrow – Connections Quality Assurance Manager
Kendra has been with Northern Powergrid for more than 20 years and was inspired by her dad who was an Electrical Engineer. Seeing what he did made Kendra think that there were untapped opportunities that some females at the time were not being encouraged to consider as a career. Kendra completed her A Levels and Degree in Electronic and Electrical Engineering and joined us as a trainee engineer. Over the years she has been an External Business Engineer, a Design Engineer helping create our network, and a Project Manager. Kendra is currently a Connections Quality Assurance Manager where she manages a team of regulatory and performance analysts and ensures that the connections business complies with primary and secondary legislation and company policies.
Kendra said: “Twenty years ago women felt like you had to be like men to fit in but it is not like that now. I embrace being a female engineer. In reality the job is about skills and not gender and more people understand that now as the new generation comes through. If you have the skills and passion to succeed then you can demonstrate that you are the right person for the job.”
We asked Kendra what piece of advice she would give to the next generation of engineers and she said: “Do what you enjoy and don't be afraid to challenge the norm, the world has a long way to go in changing and it won't happen if you don't make it. You have to be the change.”
Sarah Marsden – Project Engineer
After getting a Degree in Engineering, Sarah originally joined Northern Powergrid in 2015 as a Charging Analyst before being accepted onto Northern Powergrid’s Engineering Graduate Training Programme. After completing the programme she is now working as an Operational Engineer on the network. As an Operational Engineer, Sarah specialises in planning and delivering new electricity connection schemes for customers. New connections to Northern Powergrid’s network are key to energising communities, supporting economic growth and helping create a network which can support more low carbon technologies in the future like electric vehicles, solar panels and heat pumps.
We asked Sarah what sparked her interest in engineering. She said: “At school I enjoyed maths and physics. I got involved in an engineering project which helped show me these subjects could be used in the real world to solve problems and develop new systems. For me it’s about helping young people make that connection. As a Northern Powergrid engineer I’ve really enjoyed getting involved in volunteering and love seeing youngsters get inspired and passionate about engineering. I also think for the girls in the group its important that they see engineering is a career opportunity for everyone.”
We asked Sarah what advice she would give to future generations and she said: “Believe in yourself, you can achieve more than you think.”
Mary Black – Specialist Electricity Distribution Engineer
Mary joined Northern Powergrid in 2005 and has more than 25 years’ experience in computer programming, data analysis and distribution network engineering.
Mary played a leading role in Northern Powergrid’s inaugural Innovation and Ideas Festival - a digital event designed to empower and educate people about the technologies that are shaping the local power infrastructure and support the transition to net zero across the region. She talked about how we’re using the most innovative data mapping approaches to see how key low carbon technology – from electric vehicles to heat pumps – will grow in each town and city we serve.
Mary, who was inspired by the women of World War II who left traditional roles to become much-needed engineers, said: “I’ve always been passionate about computing, data and engineering and how it touches the world around us.
“Electricity undoubtedly plays a major role in powering our lives and this is only going to increase in the decades ahead as we move toward more electric heating, storage and transport.
“Being involved in some of the cutting-edge work we are doing to plan for tomorrow’s energy system is exciting and I’d love to see more women be part of our journey to decarbonise our network and create greener energy for future generations.”
Erica Barbour – Protection Engineer
Erica has been part of #TeamPowergrid for more than three years but her journey might surprise many. Erica’s earlier career included being a musical theatre teacher at the Northern Academy of Performing Arts and she was also a Team Leader in the retail sector before she decided she wanted to change her career and be part of the energy industry so she could explore a career that would challenge and help her progress.
Erica joined Northern Powergrid’s apprenticeship programme and as part of her training and development support she has gone on to achieve a Foundation Degree in Power Engineering. In her current role, Erica is responsible for maintaining, commissioning and looking at faults on protection relays on Northern Powergrid’s network. This means detecting and disconnecting elements of the electricity network when faults occur, while discriminating against faults on unaffected plant or equipment’.
We asked Erica about her role and message for future generations, she said: “Being part of a rapidly changing industry is fulfilling for your career. With the creation of greener, smarter networks the next generation of engineers have a real opportunity to be part of something that will change the way we power our lives. It’s important that more women know and are encouraged to be part of this journey too.”
Yvonne Dobbison – Technical Services Engineer
With more than 30 years’ experience, Yvonne started her journey into engineering because of her curiosity about how things work. This ultimately led her to studying maths, physics and chemistry at A Level before achieving a Degree in Combined Engineering Studies. She was a graduate trainee at Jaguar in Electrical Engineering and then joined our business as a graduate trainee in Telecoms.
Over the years Yvonne has been a Project Engineer and she is currently a Technical Services Engineer which entails working on Northern Powergrid’s SCADA network. This is a special telecommunication network which links our equipment in substations and the overhead network so our teams in Network Control can see what is happening in real-time on our network. It also enables the network to safely carry out automated and remote changes to restore power or switch electricity through different routes.
Speaking about her role and advice for future engineers, Yvonne said: “In my role I get to work with lots of different people from internal colleagues to suppliers and contractors. While in Telecoms I was proud to be part of the development of the first Voice Response equipment. Engineering has enabled me to be part of so many different projects and initiatives over the years, so if you want to have a career that can let you do something different...go for it.”
Ruth Peacock, Resources Manager – Engineering
Ruth has spent more than 30 years in engineering after qualifying with a Degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. Being able to translate science and maths into the working world around her was one of the reasons why Ruth ventured into the profession.
Ruth’s career started in 1990 as Graduate Trainee in engineering which opened the door to progressing her career through a range of engineering roles within the company. The majority of Ruth’s career has been in electrical design and system study. Throughout her career she has been supported through a range of learning and had a flexible working pattern to create a work-life balance. She has driven her own career forward with Northern Powergrid’s backing at each stage.
Ruth is particularly proud of her work to deliver a major new substation that can power everyday life for 48,0000 people whilst balancing being a working mum of three. Speaking about the future of engineering, Ruth said: “New technology and new use of energy is driving the need to change the way we design and operate our network. There is a strong need to be innovative and develop new non-traditional solutions that still obey the laws of physics. It’s a great time to be part of energy sector and supporting changes that can help tackle climate change.”
Outside of work Ruth is involved in a local Girl Guides Group for 10 to 14 year-olds. Through this she nurtures skills like problems solving and science-based skills to help the guides in the group see how they can use these skills in the real world like engineers do.
For those who may be considering a career in engineering, Ruth’s advice is clear: “Believe in yourself; believe that you can. You can't know everything at the beginning - so ask if you need guidance. There is always someone somewhere who can help and engineers love to answer the ‘WHY?’ question. Aim to be the person that can.”
Celebrating our female engineers
We hope these case studies show some of the exciting roles in our business and how engineering is key to our lives, tackling climate change and helping create a greener energy future for us all. But perhaps more importantly, we hope they show that a career in engineering is personally rewarding and open to everyone. If you have the skills and passion to succeed you can become a brilliant engineer and power your career.