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How times have changed for apprentices

Joe Freezer has seen many changes during his long career helping to keep the lights on for customers in London, South East and East of England - for the last 51 years.

From Press releases - 7 March 2017 12:00 AM

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Starting out as an enthusiastic 18-year old labourer at Eastern Electricity (the company has changed ownership over the years) and now still enjoying life at UK Power Networks 51 years on, Joe said he is still passionate about coming to work every day.

He was first drawn to a career in the electricity industry as he knew it would provide good long-term benefits and career progression. Although never called an ‘apprentice’ in those days, Joe trained in essential skills while working.
He steadily progressed up the career ladder and by the late 1980s he was a fully qualified linesman performing ‘hot glove’ work  carrying out maintenance and upgrade works on overhead  power cables while they still carry high voltage electricity, a very responsible job and it significantly reduces power cuts while such work is carried out.

Joe has seen a huge amount of change throughout his career, especially in the areas of technology and safety - making the expression that ‘change is the only constant’ definitely ring true.

He said: “One of the biggest differences is the increase in mechanical aids and assistance. When I first started out there were no power tools and everything had to be done manually. To dig a hole for a power pole it took a lot of hard physical labour.
“Now it’s all done with machinery and tools that reduce time, physical impact and improve accuracy. Mobile Elevated Work Platforms (MEWPs) were also introduced – so gone were the days of regularly scampering up power poles.”

Joe has also witnessed dramatic safety improvements over the years. He said:  “I remember when I started, if you told your manager you wouldn’t do something because it was unsafe, it was likely you’d be sent straight home. Now under UK Power Networks, if you have any doubt you are encouraged to speak up and openly have that conversation with any level of management.”

Although there has been a huge improvement in safety standards and the company is the safest in the electricity industry, Joe still urged young apprentices to remain vigilant. “Risk assessments have definitely helped but you can’t get complacent. Spotting hazards can come with experience and you need to constantly think about safety as new issues can come up.”

Cultural and lifestyle changes over the years have also affected the public’s expectations around restoring power supply. Joe said: “There is definitely more pressure these days to restore power quickly and I think one of the reasons is due to the change in the way people live.
“Lots of people work from home these days and they also have so many more electronic appliances and devises. Previously, you had a fridge, TV, if you were lucky, and your lights. Now there are much bigger implications if you are without power.

“I think we’ve done a really good job in responding to this at our company, by focusing on our customer service and communication, as one of the biggest things is keeping people informed.”

Joe has many fond memories of the projects he has worked on over the years, including restoration work in the Scottish Highlands following a storm as well as restoring power after the 1987 East Anglia hurricane.

He said: “The devastation from the hurricane was huge and we worked tirelessly for about two weeks to restore power to the thousands of people that were off. It is a really satisfying feeling when you restore power and for me is one of the best things about the job.”

In 2015 Joe helped with the restoration of 600-year-old church in Suffolk. When residents faced a £500 cost to erect scaffolding to place a new cross on the tower of All Saints Church at Crowfield, church officials turned to UK Power Networks, and Joe and team were happy to help by lending a ‘cherry picker’ to lift the new wooden cross into position. He said: “We always like to help community good causes and were able to pick a quiet time to schedule this job. The cherry picker is usually employed to install or repair overhead power lines but it was nice to see it put to a different purpose. It was a relatively quick job to do so no problem.”

Although still passionate about work, Joe knows that retirement is in the impending future. While apprehensive about the transition, he has no regrets.  He said: “We are a really close group of guys and have been working together for a long time. I will definitely miss the camaraderie more than anything else.”
“If I had my time again, I wouldn’t do it any other way and I would still encourage young people to get into the industry. It can provide you with a long, happy career.”
Joe mainly works in Suffolk but in major incidents linesmen like him can travel nationwide and internationally to help get power supplies back on.