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Apprentice interview

Emma Hanley, Electrical and Instrumentation & craftsperson

After leaving school at 18, Emma thought she had her career path mapped out. She had planned to study food and nutrition at university but after reconsidering her options, she chose an E&I apprenticeship with Sellafield Ltd (through local training provider Gen2).

Four years later and now a fully qualified E&I craftsperson at Sellafield, Emma, aged 22, has gone from strength to strength in her career. Having recently been named by the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) the North West Apprentice of the Year and then the overall National Apprentice of the Year, Emma has proven a change of heart can lead to great things.

We sat down with Emma to talk about her success, why she’s an inspiration to other apprentices and her hopes for the future…

Why did you choose an apprenticeship over university in the end?
Originally I wanted to go to university to study food and nutrition but then when I reached sixth form I found that I started to want something more for my future career. I didn’t want to go to university, come away with debt and no job security. I had friends who were training at Gen2, getting qualifications and on-the-job training with guaranteed jobs afterwards, so when I left school in 2010 I knew an apprenticeship was the route to choose.

I went to college for a year to gain an electrical NVQ and then I successfully gained a place on the Sellafield Ltd E&I apprenticeship. When I first started my training I hated it. I thought; what am I doing here? There were only two females out of 70 students on my course so I felt out of my depth, but as it went on I got used to working within a male dominated environment.

Why did you feel out of your depth?
It was a bit daunting being one of the only girls on the course. I felt the boys were more hands-on and physically stronger so they would be better at the practical work, but I soon realised that I could do it, I just didn’t know my own ability. I gradually gained more confidence as the course went on and when I doubted myself I would take a step back and say to myself: no, I’m going to do this and prove to everyone, I am a woman and I can do it!

The other girl on my college course almost quit too but after my wobble, I persuaded her not to. She realised what a huge opportunity she would be throwing away, and she’s now gone on to be a medical engineer at the local hospital.

Did you experience negative stereotypes?
Yes there were definitely negative stereotypes about women working in industry when I first began my apprenticeship. I have one clear memory of going to the care home where my mum worked and being asked by one of the elderly residents what I did for a job. When I told them I was training to be an electrician they were shocked. I was told that it was a ‘man’s job’ and I should be training to be a hairdresser instead. Thankfully I didn’t take that advice and I think this kind of negative image of women working in ‘men’s jobs’ is becoming obsolete due to greater awareness and opportunities for females in the industry.

Why did you choose a career as an E&I craftsperson in the nuclear industry?
I love the challenges I get working at Sellafield. E&I in the nuclear industry is completely different and presents a unique set of technical and engineering challenges you wouldn’t experience in other sectors. It can be difficult to overcome those challenges but when you do, you feel accomplished and proud of yourself.

We currently have two external electricians working in my team and they have commented how different our type of work is compared to other industries they have worked in so I’m helping them get to grips with the new challenges. To think, I’m only 22 and I’m training up people who are twice my age!

Would you say it is important that you help other people with their training?
Yes I try to inspire and motivate other people. My E&I apprentice cohort were the first year to do the ECITB qualification so we struggled not having any older apprentices who could act as mentors. Now I have that experience and knowledge I try to help the younger E&I apprentices through their training and careers as much as I can.

We currently have a female apprentice working in my team; when she found out I had won the apprentice of the year award she was over the moon for me. It has motivated her to excel and achieve similar things in her career. It’s nice to think I’m an inspiration to her and I hope I can help shape her to become the next apprentice of the year!

Do you have any advice for other young women who are interested in a career in industry?
Through my role as a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) ambassador, I talk to lots of young school girls who are apprehensive about working in what they perceive to be a male dominated industry. They have this idea, the same one I have the start of my training, they won’t succeed because they’re a girl. I tell them, if you’re interested and want a career that is equally challenging and rewarding, you have to give it a go. Look at me, I didn’t enjoy it at first and now I love my job! Hopefully I can make them realise they can be equal to their male counterparts and consider studying or working in a STEM industry.

Well done on winning the National Apprentice of the Year award – how does it feel to be recognised as the best in the country?
I’m delighted to have won the award. To have been recognised in a category of such high standard is an accomplishment in itself. I feel all the hard work and dedication I put in during my apprenticeship with Sellafield Ltd has really paid off and helped me stand out to the judges. I now want to keep progressing in my career and I’m about to embark on the company’s plant engineering scheme which will allow me to gain further qualifications.