It's not about being a Woman; It's about knowing you can.
In light of International Woman’s Day, NAPIT member and electrical engineer, Salli Brand, talks us through her career and tells us how gaining success in the electrical industry can happen regardless of gender.
It is 17 years since the artistic calling to make lamps and light fittings attracted me. A one year course in electrical installation would surely be all I needed to learn how to put a plug on something with a light bulb and be able to sell it. I was already self-employed as an artist, and wasn’t planning on being a real electrician or anything.
I was accepted for evening classes without having to reveal the one-year intent. That was the City and Guilds 2360 for two nights a week for three years. There were about 60 of us in the class. It was a revelation. I was hooked within three weeks.
So began the compulsion better to understand electricity. I still have that, and I warn you now that learning about electricity is going to keep you up late at night. Not because you have to, but because you want to.
I did well. I am the kid from the comprehensive school, not university educated and in those days preparation for becoming an electrician by dint of an NVQ wasn’t mentioned. I had no idea that I might need a degree or an NVQ, and I still don’t.
Later, I went back with the remaining lads from the first three years and took the Inspection and Testing course (C&G 2391 in those days). Only two of us came through that with a pass. At the same time, I became a NAPIT registered electrician. I’d been with another body for a couple of years but thought I’d try the company who specialise in inspection. I have been with NAPIT for over 8 years now. I updated my regulations exams whenever needed and got on with it. By then I was installing as an electrician, as well as inspecting and testing. I was too busy to make that light fitting. I’ve had a mentor for years now, which is vitally important.
In 2012 the shock realisation that the years were passing me and that I was going to get too old to climb the ladders all the time hit me. So much for the one year at college and a prototype funky light fitting. So, the C&G 2396 Level 4 course in the Design and Verification of Electrical Installations caught my eye. If I did that I could sit comfortably at a desk and never lift another set of steps as long as I live couldn’t I? Bring it on.
I now work as an electrical engineer for two companies. One is mine and I specialise in inspection and testing, going out for the odd day doing basic installation because I love it. You can take the electrician off the tools but…
For the rest of my time I work as a freelance consultant for the engineering company Atkins in one of their specialist sectors. It works well for all of us that my experience is varied so they’re happy to share me with, well, me. One day I might be inspecting a site, the next writing a report about what I saw, and the next producing an AutoCAD drawing of the electrical system. I design new systems on paper as well. I’ve a desk with paperclips and a bag of screwdrivers and test equipment. However, it occurs to me that I still shift ladders, so I’m making a note to self about that.
What I really want to tell you is this though; none of this is about being a woman. It is just about finding a great career in electrical engineering. It makes me cross when a woman wants to be an electrician and expects special treatment. Just get on with it. Get yourself signed up for that college course. Yes, you can do this.
17 years ago I did not have ambitions to be an electrical engineer and I still haven’t made that lamp. I bought some component parts only a week ago though. I’m all over it.
Salli Brand MIET
08 March 2017