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Starting a career during lockdown

Starting a career during a global pandemic was not without challenges for UK Power Networks’ apprentices, but after three years of training our newly qualified ‘key workers’ were ready to play their part in supporting the country.

From Press releases - 11 June 2020 12:00 AM

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Two of them, Ben Veness, from Maidstone, and Darbie Hughes, from Crawley, joined UK Power Networks’ apprenticeship in 2016 and became fully qualified electricity substation fitters last year, maintaining and repairing vital equipment which keeps the local lights on. 

For those who want to follow in Ben and Darbie’s footsteps, UK Power Networks has reopened its apprenticeship vacancies for two weeks until June 14, giving students approaching the end of their education a chance to apply for a role with Britain’s biggest electricity distributor. See here for more details. 

Today (Tue, June 9) sees the launch of a strategy within the utility sector to show the value of a career in an industry which provides critical infrastructure and services. Read the strategy.

Andrew Pace, HR director at UK Power Networks, said: “As we rise to the challenge of a net zero carbon future this is an exciting industry to work in which needs an appropriately skilled, safe and diverse workforce for today and the long term. We’ve teamed up with other utility companies through the Energy and Utilities Skills partnership on a strategy which raises the profile of job opportunities, training and skills in an industry that provides vital infrastructure services to millions of homes. During COVID-19 we are all relying on these key workers more than ever.”

Power workers, Ben Veness, 22, and Darbie Hughes, 23, talk about building their careers during lockdown

Q. What does it mean to you being a key worker, helping to keep the country going?
Ben: “We are the power company and if we didn’t do our jobs people couldn’t work, do things like make a cup of tea, run fridges and freezers or listen to the radio. We are doing what we have always done, but taking extra precautions to be safe, so life can go on during this difficult time.

“When I received a letter recognising I was a key worker it felt nice to be recognised. I would have done the work anyway, because this is my job and people are relying on us. People respect the social distance but still come up to thank us for carrying on and being there for everyone.”

Darbie: “It’s a good feeling, it makes us feel that we are doing our bit for the country. 

“People would notice if weren’t keeping the lights on! Everybody needs electricity. Hospitals need it to look after us and people need it to work, stay in touch with family and to be entertained. 

“All of our work was essential and we have been just as busy as normal, carrying out essential maintenance on switchgear. 

“When colleagues needed to self-isolate we managed the workload between the teams. I self-isolated for two weeks because my mum wasn’t well and our whole household had to go into self-isolation.”

Q. How did you feel about starting your career during such a difficult time?
Ben: “I felt comfortable coming to work because the company put in really good measures and briefings to make sure everyone is comfortable and as safe as possible. We work in pairs and mutually respect each other’s space. During most jobs we can keep away from each other.” 

Darbie: “We’ve adapted the way that we work to make it safe. Normally during circuit breaker maintenance, someone works each side of the equipment. Now, to keep our distance, someone will watch from a distance and then we swap over. Jobs can take a bit longer as a result.”

Q. What was it like to work during lockdown and what restrictions did you face?
Ben: “ It has been nice going out to work, seeing our colleagues and having that social interaction. I work outdoors in electricity substations across a wide area including Maidstone, Faversham, Broadstairs, Dover, New Romney and Dungeness and I have my own van. 

“The main difference was not going into the yard or office, unless we had to and when we are there instinct kicks in and we stand two metres away from our colleagues. 

“Initially we did a lot of post-fault maintenance on oil circuit breakers. Now we are doing more planned maintenance, taking transformer oil samples, replacing fault indicator batteries and occasionally working on faults, diverting power.”

Darbie: “I work at electricity substations across a wide area, right up to the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. I drive my own van and it was lovely because nobody was on the roads for a couple of months, so I wasn’t stuck in any traffic jams on the M25! It’s busier again now.”

Q. How does the company support you?
Ben: “We had a meeting where they explained the company guidelines and how to work safely during COVID-19. They issued lunch packs to each yard and hygiene packs with hand sanitiser, grime wipes, magnetic social distancing reminders for our vans, masks and gloves. The offices have been adapted, including social distancing signage on the floor.”

Darbie: “There are daily briefings, we received COVID training from our line manager and we have extra Personal Protective Equipment. If anything, my work has made me more aware of controlling the risks. We all have a part to play in controlling the pandemic.”

Q. How important was job security?
Ben: “I feel very lucky to have job security and don’t take it for granted. I love working for this company. The support we receive is amazing. Our landlord got in touch to check if we were going to face any difficulty meeting the rent and fortunately we were able to tell him we were going to be fine.” 

Q. What precautions do you take at work to minimise the spread of the pandemic?
Darbie: “We receive a regular supply of masks, gloves, grime wipes and hand sanitisers to wash our hands. That’s one of the most important things we can all do and it’s essential because many of the sites where we work don’t have facilities. 

“We work with gloves all the time anyway, because we work with substances, but in certain situations, we also wear a mask. It has become the new normal for us now. 

“There was definitely a stage where I was worrying about bringing the virus home. It made me really disciplined about making my own packed lunches, so I don’t need to visit the shops. The company also supplied lunches to some of the offices so if we were nearby we could pick up food.”