Jack (or Jackie) of all trades

Wendi-WheelerBy Wendi Wheeler, Energy and Carbon Strategy Manager at Network Rail

It’s not like public service, medicine, or the forces. When children are little, they decide they want to be a fireman, a doctor, a soldier. As they grow up, their aspirations might change as they mature into young adults – perhaps they will want to study to become a lawyer, a vet, or an architect. There are so many different choices and career aspirations – far too many to list. As a parent of two teenage daughters, I can sympathise (and indeed I remember it well myself) with the youth of today wrestling with the confusing array of potential paths to take, when really all you want to do is have fun. Nevertheless, they must make their choices in order to take their next steps in life.

But how many of us made the conscious decision to become an Energy Manager? Not me. And not many of my colleagues, acquaintances and peers - if any at all. In my many years of working in energy management, nobody has ever told me that this is what they actually chose to do as a career.

To be fair, it’s an odd profession. Jack of all trades and master of none, perhaps. How do you train for that? The skills requirements are broad – you have to have an inquisitive and analytical mind, with an eye for detail that some might miss. Proficiency in handling, managing and presenting large amounts of data (in a simple manner) is essential. You have to have some technical knowledge, but not to the standard of an engineer or scientist. You have to be a great communicator and negotiator, able to clearly articulate the benefits of what you do – normally in a way that will satisfy the scrutiny of your company’s financier, environmentalists and the Board. And an in-depth knowledge of legal requirements and industry standards is a must. Phew!

And yet, despite all of those requirements and the fact that I spend most of my days desperately busy and mightily frustrated, it’s a great job to be in, and I love it! It’s hugely rewarding, and I learn something new every day. I couldn’t be a bigger advocate for youngsters looking for a fulfilling career. So why aren’t young people thinking “Yeah, I want to do that!”?

On balance, it’s probably because they don’t know that this is a career path that is there to be trod. Until very recently, Energy Manager training was something that was done on an ad-hoc basis by somebody that was already in the job. Most people in the profession have fallen into it by chance through working in other, generally technical professions. Because of that path from more technical roles the vast majority of those in Energy Management are men. Not that there is anything wrong with that – but where are all the ladies?

Whilst the gender balance is changing, progress is slow. There are more women working in the field than there used to be, but generally in the more junior, less technical roles. I always say you need to be ballsy in this job, but it appears that members of the fairer sex may be taking this reference too literally. I’ve been greeted with the comment “…but you’re a girl!” on more than a few occasions. I often feel the urge to look down at myself and say “Really?” but I manage to find restraint. If we are to encourage a new generation of young Energy Managers, the training needs to be available and the perception of energy management as a predominantly male profession needs to be challenged.

Not that I’m a raving feminist, you understand. But, as a woman in this particular role, I feel it’s my duty to say to other women “Come on, jump in – it’s great!”

Women are perfect for this role. The varied list of skills means that multi-tasking is an absolute necessity – do I need to argue the point that ladies can do that just as well (ahem - if not better) than men? Good communicator, persuader, keeping up to date with what’s going on, managing budgets, being organised – need I go on? And if we don’t know the answer to a question – we can generally find somebody who does.
At the end of the day, good energy management is mainly about good common sense. Why would you use (and pay for) more than you need to? Why would you do an activity one way, if there is a more efficient alternative? Why would you waste something valuable? Simple. Common. Sense.

So why wouldn’t women make great Energy Managers? No reason at all. And yet there are so few.

To me, the key is training. I’m passionate about apprenticeships – learning your trade on the job, gleaning knowledge from the wealth of experience around you, getting your hands on the issue and working it out. That’s why I’m so pleased that the EMA’s Junior Energy Manager Apprenticeship standard is approved and soon to be ready for delivery. Raising awareness about energy use is also hugely important and the EMA’s LEC training is a great hammer in an Energy Managers hypothetical toolbox. The greater level of knowledge that’s required, the higher level of training can be used. Finally, let’s encourage the ladies. The old adage of “This is a man’s world” is long gone, and I’m very proud to be acting as an ambassador for women in energy management through the EMA. Along with Nicola Stopps, Director of Simply Sustainable, we are working on a special project – Empowering Women into Energy Management.

A job in Energy Management is hugely rewarding – you get to see the benefits of your work, and you can relay those benefits to others in environmental, social, ethical terms, and in cold, hard cash. Every day is a school day, it’s varied, exciting and really enjoyable. Remember the comment in the first paragraph about young adults just wanting to have fun? Well, here it is girls!

Wendi Wheeler is Energy and Carbon Strategy Manager at Network Rail. She is speaking at EMEX on