Utility Week

Utility Week 14 03 14

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24 | 14th - 20th March 2014 | UtILItY WEEK Operations & Assets Analysis I 'm fine, I could stay up here all day," I lie, through gritted teeth. I am clinging to an electricity pole, supported solely by two short spikes attached to my heels. My legs are cramping and I realise with panic that I don't know how to get down. The climb- ing equipment hasn't changed in 30 years, although I am assured the safety gear has improved considerably. There is an audience of seven for my turn as trainee lineswoman for Electricity North West. Three apprentices, one of the training staff, a press officer and a photographer look on as I stab my spiky footgear awkwardly into the wooden pole, inching up towards the wires overhead. Oh, and chief executive Steve Johnson makes time in his busy sched- ule to shout encouragement. I suspect he is enjoying my discomfiture. I am visiting the distribution network operator's shiny new £2 million training cen- tre in Blackburn, as part of National Appren- ticeship Week. With an ageing workforce and changing technology, the networks are anx- ious to recruit the next generation of engi- neers and technical experts (see box). For young people, it is a tough but rewarding job and a chance to "earn as you learn" in a sec- tor that can confidently offer a career for life. "We have an age profile that means about half our staff are going to retire in the next 15 years," says Johnson. "It is a scary number." The networks have historic underinvest- ment to make up. "Right across the sector, we have real issues of skill shortages," says Johnson. Aer privatisation, he says, they were under pressure to cut costs and let a lot of people go. Worse, they stopped recruiting for about a decade – "a huge mistake". Today's recruits will face different chal- lenges to their predecessors, because increasing volumes of distributed genera- tion, electric vehicles and heat pumps con- nect to the grid. Even in Blackburn, not known for an excessively sunny climate, streets full of solar panels are visible on the trip from the train station. "This industry is going to change more in the next 30 years than it has in the last 100," says Johnson. "For kids coming in now – I should stop Doing it for the kids To mark National Apprentice Week, Megan Darby went to Blackburn to visit Electricity North West's new state-of-the-art training facility and get the company's take on the skills shortage. " Megan Darby conquers a fear of heights – and leg cramps – to get a taste of life on the front line

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