Water Industry Awards Rising Star: valuing apprenticeships less than a degree ‘unfair’

Almost a year after winning Rising Star of the Year at the 2021 Water Industry Awards, Utility Week Innovate caught up with Elysia Moore, product owner at Anglian Water, to reflect on her ‘unconventional’ route into utilities.

Part of the Young Apprentice Ambassador Network, the water industry’s Rising Star of the Year for 2021, Elysia Moore, was recognised by judges for taking a lead on Anglian’s inclusion for National Apprenticeship Week – working alongside apprentices past and present as well as the company’s chief executive Peter Simpson.

Her work with the water sector’s apprentices also saw Moore create a series of videos to engage and inspire newcomers and work as a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) ambassador to inspire the next generation.

“Elysia has demonstrated her focus on learning, a proactive problem-solving approach, her ability to engage stakeholders, her enthusiasm and desire to support others,” Water Industry Award judges said.

Here, she reflects on three-and-a-half years with Anglian, the importance of finding space to fail, and the role apprenticeships have played in her success so far.

What was your first job in the utilities sector?

This one! I started my time at Anglian Water as an information services degree apprentice in September 2018. During my time as an apprentice I worked with different teams within information services to tackle different challenges they faced, including developing dashboards that helped us avoid buying an external tool, and automating lengthy manual processes to reduce teams’ workload while maintaining high quality outcomes.

Next I worked on a project which looked into the trend of open data, researching the benefits and understanding what it could bring to Anglian Water. One of the outcomes of this project was a joint water company hackathon that had international participants. I shared my knowledge and experiences with stakeholders from other water companies and sat as a panel member for Tech UK. This project was one I’m particularly proud of, as it’s led to continued collaboration with Ofwat and other water companies.

Finally, I had a placement within our digital services team, shadowing the product owners. I enjoyed this so much that I knew this was the direction I wanted to focus on. This led to lots of research and learning to see what I had to do to become a successful product owner – which is how I got here now.

What work experience or qualifications did you have before moving into the industry?

I had previously worked as a software engineer apprentice, completing a level three advanced apprenticeship at a company producing radios and communication equipment for the police and ambulance services.

During my time there, I created software which was used both within the company and externally with customers.

What has been your career highlight thus far?

Being nominated twice for the Rising Star of the Year award – and winning! I felt extremely grateful that I had been nominated and I was up against some tough competition.

The funniest part is that because I was working from home and my internet cut out just as they were about to announce the winner, everyone else knew before I did.

What is your golden rule for overcoming challenges at work generally?

As long as I know I am working my hardest and giving it my all, then I know I have done what I can. I am a big fan of meditation – even though I forget it exists at times – and I have actually found that during this time of relaxation and inward focus, the answers to challenges often become clear.

Something I often think to myself and say to others is that as a species, we have managed to explore other planets, so I think we can definitely solve this – it just may be a bit trickier or take longer than we first thought. Everything is possible.

How would you describe your creative process in three words?

Bold, scribbles and sleep.

I often like to think of ideas that are a bit crazy and ‘out there’, which get translated into scribbles on paper as I am a visual thinker.

As for sleep – I have to keep a notepad next to my bed because the most random ideas tend to come to me as I am about to fall asleep or during my dreams!

Which piece of technology, or app, could you not function without?

Miro or similar collaborative board space – I don’t know how I worked through thought processes and brainstorm sessions without it. The majority of the collaborative work I do now is on Miro.

What do you think is the key to creating the conditions for innovation within the utilities sector?

Space to fail. Failing is not a bad thing as long as when it happens, it happens quickly. And we also need space to inspect and adapt – inspect what we have done and adapt it and try again.

Is there a standout innovation or collaboration project that you’ve worked on during your time in utilities – what made it special?

One of my placements was focused on open data. This was all about how we could share and collaborate with data to help us innovate and tackle new challenges we are facing.

As part of this work we ran a collaborative data hackathon, where we used the greater collective of external minds to work with us and bring a wealth of new ideas in just a few days. The banking industry already uses this concept very well, so it was exciting to try it out in the water industry.

What has winning an award at the Water Industry Awards meant for you and your career over the past year?

Winning the Rising Star of the Year award has helped give me exposure to share my story.

I started my career in an ‘unconventional’ route through apprenticeships, rather than A-levels and university. It’s really rewarding being able to prove to other people, who may also not want to follow the conventional route, that going off the beaten path can lead to great things and a successful career. Often people don’t take apprenticeships as seriously as getting A-levels and a degree, but I want to show that’s an unfair attitude to have.

It also helped me showcase my work to move straight into a product owner position after finishing my apprenticeship. I now work within a digital ‘squad’ where we are working on an internal app for all employees to use which is a great new experience for me.