Network Magazine spoke to Steven Read, trainee programmes manager at UK Power Networks, about how apprenticeships will be crucial to developing the smart infrastructure of the future.

Q: How vital is it to future industry challenges that properly prepared and trained apprentices are being put through the system?

A: “We believe that as an electricity network we have a key role to play in enabling the UK to achieve its commitment of reaching net zero carbon by 2050. The volume of carbon emitted in producing electricity in Britain has fallen 40% in the last six years. Where this electricity can be used to power heat and transport we can help everyone reduce their carbon footprint every day. For example, we now have 60,000 electric cars charging from our network and we expect over four million by 2030.

“It’s vitally important that we have a network that is going to be able to support this transition, and that we have the staff to build and maintain that network. Our foundation and experienced apprentices are the next generation of field staff and engineers who will play this key role.

“Our apprentices are trained in one of three core crafts as either jointers, overhead linespeople or substation fitters. These roles remain the bedrock of our operations to maintain a reliable power network as the energy system continues to evolve.  In addition we give them an introduction to new ways of working that are being adopted by the industry, as some may go on to be instrumental in delivering changes on the network.

“We also train higher apprentices and the training includes installing innovative network systems such as smart grids and Active Network Management, and filling new roles required for the future electricity networks. It’s a case of making sure we have staff that are ready for the future.”


Q: Do you think programs such as these are fulfilling a potential skills shortage for the network operators caused by rapidly changing tech/infrastructure?

A: “We run training programmes to fulfil skills in traditional engineering skills and also to enable relevant employees to train in new techniques as they become available. Both are required to ensure we can keep the lights on in the future at lowest cost to our customers.

“Our workforce of engineers oversee any new technology we are putting on the system, such as Active Network Management. Whilst working with their teams on site, our craft apprentices, training as jointers, fitters and linespeople, support the installation of new technology. We are running a number of world leading technology trials and deployments such as Active Response or Powerful CB.”


Q: How are the apprentice programmes developed? Who in conjunction with?

A: “Our apprenticeship programme was developed to meet the company’s needs and meet the new Apprenticeship Standards. We continually develop the programme with key stakeholders within our business.

“We ensure our training programme enables them to pass Apprenticeship Standards approved by the industry, with EU Skills and EUIAS (independent end-point assessment provider), to ensure competency across the industry. The standards are approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships.”


Q: What are the different kinds of programme offered?

A: “Our network delivers electricity across London, the South East and East of England via underground cables and overhead lines that connect to everyone’s homes and business. As such our employees go everywhere too! The majority of the work for jointers and overhead lines people is outside, working on our network but we have other roles too.

“We run a higher apprenticeship scheme aimed at people who have already gained an ONC or HNC in electrical engineering. This follows Apprenticeship Standards in Electricity Power Networks Engineers and Power Protection and Commissioning Engineers, delivered through our Engineering Development Programme.

“They are training to become operational engineers, protection and commissioning engineers. These roles are based inside our operational sites – either in offices planning and designing work or in our substations working hands on with electrical equipment.

“Last week we received a ‘Discovering Potential’ award from Best Companies, reflecting our ongoing commitment toward recruiting and developing apprentices.”


Q: In your opinion are young apprentices already more technology minded and even ‘climate change challenge’ aware than those of previous generations?


A: “This generation of apprentices are digital natives, and they’re joining us at a time when there’s an unprecedented volume of exciting new technology coming onto the network as we move towards ever more low carbon energy sources. But I think the interest in climate change runs beyond just our apprentices and across the whole business. Through the scale of involvement in projects like our Green Action Plan we’re seeing a real pride in our role in enabling a low carbon future.

“Reducing emissions and engaging with staff and customers about lowering their carbon emissions, has led us to become the first electricity network operator to achieve the coveted Carbon Trust Standard for Carbon. Achieving this certification is a key step in our Green Action Plan, as it seeks to minimise its impact on the environment and help communities reach ‘net zero’ in line with the UK government’s target of net zero emissions by 2050.

“When they start working with us, they are already very aware of climate change as it’s such a big part of current affairs. I think previous generations were perhaps less aware of it. As a business keen to help enable the UK’s transition to a low carbon economy, we also value the fresh perspective of new recruits. We encourage all staff, not just apprentices, to speak up and suggest improvements they have identified that we could make, and climate change is a common theme in our drive for continuous improvement.”


Q: What kind of changes have had to be made to the apprentice programmes in order to adapt for the ever-evolving energy sector?

“We continue to adapt our apprenticeship to meet the changing environment and to meet the Apprenticeship Standards, which are government approved and include key elements about driving towards a low carbon future. We believe this future will continue to need a breadth of skills – both our core craft skills and a range of new roles within our industry.

“In our higher apprenticeships we are introducing learning around innovation and understanding the technologies connecting on to the network to support a low carbon future. They will use their engineering and management skills to support the business in that direction.”

This article first appeared in Network magazine, which has now been incorporated into Utility Week

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