Apprenticeship week: The crucial role of apprenticeships in building the net zero energy workforce

Jess Butcher, a third-year apprentice on the Advanced Apprenticeship programme with National Grid Electricity Transmission, is training to become a substation craftsperson in North Kent. Here, she talks about the importance of apprenticeships in developing skills for young people and building the net zero workforce.

Apprenticeship week: The crucial role of apprenticeships in building the net zero energy workforce

Image: National Grid

National Grid’s ‘Building the Net Zero Energy Workforce’ report found that the energy industry needs to recruit 400,000 jobs between now and 2050 to get the UK to net zero. The report revealed that more than half of UK adults want to work for a company that is helping the country to reach net zero, and a career tackling climate change is one of the top motivators for young adults aged between 18-24 – this was one of the key reasons I wanted to join National Grid.

My dad worked as a substation craftsperson, and when I was a child, I was always inquisitive and eager to learn how mechanics worked from him.  I wasn’t initially looking for an apprenticeship myself; my interest was in animals and conservation. I went on to study veterinary medicine at university, but I soon realised that formal learning was not the right path for me. At that point, I started to think about combining my love of the planet with being outside of the classroom. I was really inspired by my dad’s career and now, after three years of really hard work, I’m almost at the point of qualifying into the same type of role he did before his retirement.

There is a huge need for apprenticeships in the industry. We need more young people to choose Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects and to be supported into careers in the sector. Everything in day-to-day life revolves around STEM in one way or another, and we need future generations to be equipped with the knowledge and experience to drive the energy transition.

Building a diverse workforce is a crucial part of this – everybody brings different ideas to a company, which creates innovation. As an apprentice, I know that my ideas are appreciated and I’m listened to, and you can’t progress or find new solutions to challenges without giving everybody that same opportunity. When people are free to express themselves, it creates an inclusive environment, and people are more likely to speak up and put that extra effort in if they feel valued and heard.

There are always new ideas for how we’re going to achieve net zero, and looking ahead, I’m intrigued to see what changes are going to happen as the industry undergoes rapid transformation. I’m excited to be at the forefront of those changes– it’s a really big thing to be part of.

I think one of the best parts of being an apprentice is that we gain such a breadth of knowledge and understanding of the transmission network and how it operates. We’re not just trained for the position we’re going into – we learn about all the different roles around it. The apprenticeship is a fantastic stepping-stone and there are lots of opportunities for progression. Once I finish, I have so many career paths I can take, and I could even go to work in a completely different area of the organisation.

Alongside the physical skills I’ve learned, my personal development has come on leaps and bounds whilst working at National Grid. There are a whole host of courses available, and my interpersonal skills have improved.  I’ve been nurtured, supported, and challenged to push myself by my colleagues, and my confidence has grown significantly since I first started.

I’m so proud to have a role in delivering the energy transition – and to be a woman in STEM, pushing the boundaries of energy innovation to get us to net zero.

National Grid offers a range of different Advanced Apprenticeships and Higher Apprenticeships to recruit a new generation of talent, charged with the destiny of shaping the future of energy. Read more about their apprenticeship programmes here.

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