David Bennun, The Telegraph
As a child, STEM Hero Faye Banks spent time in a children’s home and once was the only woman in a factory of 500 men. She is now north-east electrical transmission and asset manager for National Grid, managing the network that delivers electricity to millions of homes.
Faye Banks, 37, is the north-east electrical transmission and asset manager for National Grid. Since growing up in care and returning to education to retake her GCSEs while working at a packing plant, she has become Young Women Engineer of the Year 2004 and the youngest-ever fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), where she is helping to draft the frameworks for the Trailblazer Apprenticeships scheme.
It’s a wide variety of work that I do. I pick operational teams in the North-East, with diverse skill-sets. I’ve got commissioning engineers, craft roles, technicians, substation attendants. Their task is to carry out maintenance on a daily basis. We do condition-monitoring surveys to detect any heat spots or anomalies. That’s the network element of it. But also I liaise with the generation sites, the third-party contractors, the commercial part. I’m looking at whether we can increase dynamic capability and delivery.
It’s very challenging. With National Grid, the asset set is so diverse, you come across assets that might be 40 or 50 years old, that were built to last for life, gold-plated. And you’ve got brand-new, cutting-edge technology with an asset life of less than ten years. You’ve got such different control mechanisms. The reality is you have to be familiar with 50 years’ worth of electrical engineering at any one time and adapt yourself to it.
I want to break down those barriers and stereotypes of why people think women can’t do these jobs.
When you’ve got technical issues, engineers tend to be very objective people. But the human element of it is very subjective. Fault-finding skills you can transfer to people, but then engaging and motivating and understanding people’s attitudes and work ethics, it’s a totally different skill-set. You continually have to develop people, challenge your team. If elements A and B are around the technical skills, C, D and E are more around the people skills.
Then there’s the teaching relationship, with trainees and apprentices. By 2020 we need a million more engineers and we’re not getting the numbers coming through. We always say “engineers”, but it’s the craft skills we require, it’s the technicians we require. So apprenticeships can give people a route straight into those roles. It’s not just getting the kind of apprenticeship where you get an NVQ, It’s an apprenticeship where you come out with an approved, accredited engineering degree.
No one should ever be written off. Just because you don’t meet societal expectations, you don’t come from a family with 2.4 children or whatever. When I look at my own situation – no support in the care home, no support for homework – it was just about survival for me. I now work in schools with children who are failing, pre-GCSE, and try to give them support. We all need to do our little bit.
I was the one woman in a factory workforce of 500 men at one point. It was a very difficult time. I think I learnt a lot about myself, that I was resilient. It’s a shocking statistic that so few engineers (one in 20) are female. I think you have to lead by example. I want to be a forward-thinking leader and I think it’s great to have a diverse workforce. I want to break down those barriers and stereotypes of why people think women can’t do these jobs.
For more National Grid apprenticeships and jobsplease visit www.youthinjobs.co.uk