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Meet Neil

Read Neil's interview to see what he thinks about working with us at Western Power Distribution.

It was during my time as an IET Power Academy scholar and graduate trainee engineer that I first developed a keen interest in the electricity supply industry. Given the socio-economic importance of electricity supply and being aware of the significant ongoing changes within the industry, such as smart grids and the integration of renewables, made the prospect of a career within this industry very appealing.

As a result of my work placements and initial training I became aware that the company offered a well-structured training programme, professional development opportunities and the support of a senior company mentor. This attracted me to join the business as I felt it would afford an excellent engineering career foundation.  I was also attracted by the very competitive remuneration and benefits package offered by the company.

My current role as a Design Engineer is focused on the engineering design works associated with large-scale engineering projects across the West Midlands. These projects normally form part of the company’s asset replacement or reinforcement programme and centre around the installation of plant and apparatus found within company substations at voltages from 6.6kV up to 132kV. Projects are also driven by new business activity such as new generator or load connections. These projects typically range in value from £100,000 to over £1m.

I began my role focusing on protection and control scheme design and interface engineering but have been supported to develop my skill set and take on the additional responsibilities of design lead working in a more scoping, specification and guidance capacity.

Part of my role involves taking a high-level project sanction and providing a detailed breakdown of the various engineering design related elements of the project in line with company policy, industry standards and best engineering practice.

It has been very rewarding to be given the opportunity to be responsible for the engineering design of extensive, varied and technically challenging projects. These projects can sometimes involve electricity supplies for critical public infrastructure such as major regional hospitals or an international airport, whose particular requirements often add to the complexities of the engineering design. It is also uniquely challenging and interesting to undertake the engineering design works associated with integrating a new asset into an existing site that was perhaps engineered over 50 years ago. I find the role to be very meaningful, offering great job satisfaction.

There is good comradery within the design team and a willingness to help and assist each other whenever possible. More experienced engineers are assigned in a guidance capacity which is not only good for performance and productivity but is also helpful for both the senior and junior engineers alike in terms of professional development. There are several good examples of engineers undertaking development and training resulting in progression within the team.  Whilst the work environment can be pressurised at times I feel that the Engineering Design Team management are highly supportive and through their progressive stewardship help to encourage a positive team culture.

To be successful within the company, it is important to have a good work ethic, enthusiasm for new engineering challenges, commitment to delivering work to project timescales and with good attention to detail, an ability to work well within a team, awareness and focus on managing and communicating effectively with key interfaces.

A willingness to embrace change and maintain a level of flexibility to gain the most from new opportunities, commitment to continual professional development and awareness of company standards and practices but also wider industry standards, would be a big asset to help achieve success.

A knowledge and delivery of good engineering practices, exhibiting technical leadership/professionalism and supporting others, a focus on safety by design and a focus on providing a reliable, economic and secure network for the customer would no doubt, be beneficial to anyone’s success in the company.

I have been quite fortunate to have received good training and development in my time within the company which has led to several opportunities for progression within the company, starting as an Assistant Planning Engineer, progressing to Planning Engineer, Primary System Design Engineer and Design Engineer. As a large business, there are generally a lot of opportunities for development and subsequent progression in various fields.

The company has a strong in-house training programme, training offered through internal training schools. Training offered by external bodies is also supported by the company with time allocated to studying/projects as required.

In my current role I have been afforded several opportunities for both formal training and on-the-job professional development. I have been able to gain experience from being involved in supporting staff on the Technical Staff Trainee programme and was myself rewarded for my contributions to staff training by being offered further professional development opportunities. I am keen to achieve my Chartered Engineering status with the IET and believe that the development opportunities afforded to me within the Engineering Design team will contribute greatly to this aspiration.

Reflecting on work I have undertaken in recent years it would be difficult to identify a single notable achievement. Two projects come to mind, Hockley and Summer Lane, both being in depth and costly projects. 

I am also proud of my design and settings related contributions to the timely restoration of electricity supplies following various minor and extensive network faults over the years.

The work environment can sometimes be quite busy, generally owing to the multitude of concurrent design projects and occasional programme changes. Managing multiple projects proved quite difficult for me to begin with but experience gained over the course of two years, and through the support of a highly experienced design engineer and the Engineering Design Team management, I have learnt to deal more effectively with multiple concurrent large-scale projects. This improvement has been through the better management of key interfaces, improved design decisions and working practices, enhanced quality of my personal design outputs, my improved task prioritisation, appropriate delegation and my improved focus on guiding and assisting junior engineering design colleagues.

Over the next few decades, the challenges of securing electricity supplies in an economic and technically sound manner, amidst smart grid and EV developments, energy storage and distributed generation developments, and regulatory changes, promise to make this industry an exciting one to work in.

It is evident from the company’s portfolio of Low Carbon and Innovation Projects that WPD are taking a leadership role within the industry in terms of addressing these current and future challenges. WPD are also well prepared for the transition to Distribution System Operator given the various practices and systems already in place across the company such as alternative connections and active network management.

Overall the business offers an exciting, challenging but fulfilling career in various fields of engineering with industry leading remuneration packages and benefits, good opportunities for progression and development as well as security of tenure.