Samantha left college with A Levels in languages - and now manages a large team, budget and looks after 230,000 customers at UK Power Networks. Read on to find out more about her journey, why she loves her job and how dedication and hard work helps you succeed.
Samantha Burchell, Network Operations Manager, UK Power Networks
What do you do and where do you do it?
I’m the Network Operations Manager for Croydon, based in the town and serving 230,000 customers. My job is to manage the experienced technical teams that look after our customers. We keep the lights on if people go off supply, carry out maintenance on our equipment, make new electricity connections and service alterations. I have a deputy, plus 11 engineers, 60 field staff and office staff. We are responsible for our area 24/7, 365 days a year.
Tell us the best bits about your role
Every day is different. Sometimes you may have thousands of customers off supply due to a fault on the high voltage electricity network. You don’t want that, but your adrenalin kicks in and your problem-solving skills come to the fore. I have worked on standby, just like the rest of my team. I’ve gone out in the middle of the night when it’s raining hard, dark and you’re tired, so I know what it’s like and get respect for the fact that I’ve done that. I have management responsibilities now, so get involved in meetings and presentations, but I’m a people person and I still like being hands on with the reactive work.
"I’m a people person and I still like being hands on with the reactive work."
How did you get into this role?
I never thought in million years I’d be doing a job like this. When I did my A Levels in Yorkshire I studied languages, I’d dropped physics when I was 16. Little did I know I would be studying maths and physics again to become an electrical engineer. I moved south at 19, got a clerical job at the HSE and that led to an administrative role with Seeboard, as we were then known. I have worked with the company 20 years in a lot of different roles and departments, seeing different processes and meeting new people, which kept me going. When I became a safety inspector I decided that I really wanted to understand the electrical side of the industry and that is when I asked to complete the City and Guilds course in electrical engineering. I was driven and wanted to be an engineer, working in network operations. That meant a huge amount of commitment, studying one day a week and homework while working until I was into my 30s. It was difficult and I hope my study days are over now, but it got me to where I wanted to be.
What qualifications are needed? Are apprenticeships available?
The qualification for my role is a Higher National Diploma or equivalent in electrical engineering. You can work your way up to my role from the company’s apprenticeship scheme, but you need to study and gain that qualification. Graduates who come in as engineers who could go for my role as they have that qualification.
Are there other ways into engineering now?
There are several routes into this career but you have to be prepared to work hard if you really want it. I entered the industry with A Levels in languages, which wasn’t relevant. If you want something badly enough you can do it, especially with UK Power Networks, who invest in staff who want to take vocational qualifications and the company gets a lot back in return. They paid for all my qualifications and sent me to college one day a week for six and a half years. I studied really hard and felt that I didn’t have a life at times, but it was well worthwhile.
"Working in my team is like a little family, where we all work for each other to achieve success."
Why is your role important?
I need to be that focal point for the customers in my area, including Transport for London and Croydon Council. You need to be the face of the area and bring a personal touch to that role. I run all my own team briefings so everyone in my team receives a consistent message. I make sure I’m visible, I walk round the yard and chat to the guys. It’s like our own little family, if you like, where we all work for each other to achieve success.
What would you say to someone who had second thoughts about going into engineering, especially women?
The work is so varied and interesting, so take time to think seriously before you give up on it. There still aren’t many women in electrical engineering but when women do go into this career they tend to succeed. You’ve got to be a strong person but I’m proof you can succeed if you work hard and stick at it.
Has the role met, exceeded or fallen below your expectations?
It has definitely exceeded my expectations. I never thought I would be an area manager and I am very conscious of the responsibilities that I have got. I manage a large team and budget and look after 230,000 customers – I absolutely love it. I like the pressure I suppose.