A leading utilities training provider has pledged to play a full and active part in helping increase diversity in the industry during 2021 after it delivered the first free training days of a ground-breaking programme set up to help women take the next step in their careers.

Derby-based Develop Training, which is part of the JTL Group, described the issue has having moved to centre-stage during 2020 in the wake of a series of reports which recognise how the sector’s diversity is below the UK average for gender, BAME and disability, with one study from the Energy and Utilities Skills Partnership finding that just 17% of the workforce in utilities are female, with more than 99% of employees working at craft level being male.

This compares with to a UK workforce average of 47%.

Last year Develop launched its Women in Utilities success programme, where it offered eight women working in the industry the opportunity to access high quality training, mentoring and support for free, giving them 15 days’ worth of training in any sector and any discipline, to be taken whenever they wanted.

Develop sent out a call for applicants last March, but due to the lockdown it wasn’t until October that the first learner, Annie Thomson, Regional Customer Operations Administrator at Northern Gas Networks (NGN), was able to access her training days.

She chose a two-day Core Domestic Meter Installation & Commissioning (Limited Scope) course, where she learned the basics of how to install and commission domestic gas sized meters that are sealed off at the meter outlet fitting.

A few weeks later Charlotte King, Contracts and Procurement Manager at WK Engineering Services Ltd in Weston-Super-Mare, took up five days of free training on Develop’s Service and Mainlaying Skills for Managers course.

Aimed at agents, supervisors and network managers, the course offers entry-level experience of working in a utility environment, and is ideal for managers with no formal qualifications in gas networks.

Charlotte chose the course because she has been involved with the operational side of the business for six years and wanted to gain a more thorough understanding and awareness of the technical elements of upstream and downstream gas networks.

Andy Holmes, Develops H&S Manager, who had the initial idea for the programme, said:

“Our Women in Utilities success programme is the first scheme of its type that we have undertaken and it was frustrating to have to wait until towards the end of the year to get it underway because of the coronavirus restrictions.

“However, straight away we realised how important it is to undertake something like this, because of the way in which it will help us to re-evaluate how we offer training to make sure that it’s inclusive of as many people as possible.

“We’re very grateful to all eight women for agreeing to take part because while we’re helping them, we know that we will learn a lot from their participation and how they feel about everything about the training right down to the minutiae like PPE and welfare issues.

“All of these things are important if we are to play our part in addressing the skills gap by making the industry as accessible and welcoming as possible in order that we widen the pool of talent that we recruit from.”

Annie applied for the course because she wants to be a site manager, but felt she needs hands-on experience of the practical side of the work in order to be taken seriously.

She said: "I feel that women in the gas industry have to work incredibly hard to prove themselves and gain respect, purely because it's such a male-dominated industry.

“I wanted to be a part of this programme because of the exposure it'll give me to different areas of the business and the knowledge it will allow me to gain that I would never normally have the opportunity, or access to, in my day to day administrative role.”

Chris Adair, Training Manager at Northern Gas Networks, said:

"We are proud to support, not just Annie, but all women to engage in our sector. Women working in Utilities make up a small percentage of not just our workforce but across the entire Gas Distribution Network.

“Annie is keen to progress and she is an ambassador for both women and NGN."

Charlotte added: My goal by the end of the Women in Utilities programme is to understand not only what the operational teams are doing, but also why.

“Having this knowledge will be really empowering as it'll not only build my confidence when I'm coordinating projects, but I hope it'll also help me gain respect from my colleagues.”

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