Electric Emma lights up pathways to employment for young people

She’s electric. Emma Owens is an inspiring one-woman, multi-tasking, maintenance-maestro, blazing a career trail in a major industry while studying for a Masters. More power to her elbow.

If you think Emma’s got a lot on her plate, or a lot of plates to spin, you wouldn’t know it. She is calmness personified.

“I am very driven,” smiles Emma, Maintenance Support Manager at Sellafield’s exemplar Engineering Centre of Excellence as she pauses for a second to consider – it seems for the first time – what a role model she is to others ahead of National Careers Week (March 6-11).

Even as a young girl, Emma was always fixing things, tinkering with any machine she could lay  her hands on, from lawnmowers to motorbikes.

“I always got a sense of achievement from fixing things. I knew I wanted a job in maintenance. It gives me real job satisfaction,” she said.

Born and brought up in Workington, Cumbria, Emma attended Stainburn School where she was able to further develop her passion for her chosen subjects.

“At school I always enjoyed Science and Maths – and took those subjects at Sixth Form – I always knew it was that sort of route that I wanted to go down.”

After A-Levels, Emma went on to study for an HNC and HND in Electrical and Electronic Engineering and gained her Honours degree with the University of Lancaster, delivered at Furness College in Barrow.

But her learning qualification journey didn’t stop there. “I knew I wanted to do something more with Electrical, specifically related to Renewables,” she said. “So I looked for a Masters Course which I could combine with my career.”

Emma is now studying for a Masters in Sustainable Electrical Power Systems with the University of Manchester.

It fits in with her job and her life because it’s distanced learning and she can also work at her own pace, with up to five years to complete the course.

Emma has worked at Sellafield for more than 10 years. She started out in Electrical and Instrumentation as a Craft apprentice, winning Apprentice of the Year.

With her long-held interest in maintenance she moved over to Electrical and Engineering Maintenance Support.

Six months ago Emma saw that Sellafield’s Engineering Centre of Excellence at Leconfield, Cleator Moor, was recruiting for maintenance support management roles.

Emma applied, interviewed, and got the job. “It’s great. I love it here. I couldn’t feel any luckier. All the stuff I am doing in my Masters is all the stuff that is happening here every day, whether it’s the Low Voltage Programme or Condition Based Monitoring.

“Everyone is driving their own work and their own projects, driving innovation, and discovering and utilising new up-and-coming technologies and getting buy-in for them across the site.

“It’s exciting to think that every little group working here – every emerging technology – is going to grow into something bigger and flow out of here.”

For Emma it’s about the people as well as the technology.

“I am finding that I really enjoy managing a team of people. I really enjoy getting the best out of people and taking everyone’s ideas on board,” she said.

Emma is also giving back to the community, by mentoring those who are just starting out and have shown an interest in finding out more about career paths open to them.

Emma is also involved in a range of programmes including Women In Engineering, Apprenticeships, Institution of Engineering and Technology initiatives, and mentoring those working in Electrical Crafts.

She is also central to putting maintenance at the heart of a new work experience programme at Sellafield’s Engineering Centre of Excellence this year.

Emma is working with Angela Groggins, Centre of Excellence’s Engineering Support, to help  inspire the next generation of Engineering, Maintenance and Craft teams of the future.

“Work experience can often be focused on the engineering side. We wanted to redress the balance and also give young people experience in maintenance,” she said.

“We are setting up Bay 2 at the Centre of Excellence to give young people a week of work experience focused on the maintenance side of engineering, specialising in electrical, instrumentation and mechanical maintenance.

“It’s always a concern that children and young people growing up around here think there are not a lot of opportunities for them.

“As a parent I know that too. I have a daughter. I want her to know that there are brilliant opportunities in this area that hopefully she will enjoy.”

As for Emma’s own learning career journey she’s getting as much buzz as ever from continuing to aspire to gain further qualifications and experience.

Already an Incorporated Engineer, Emma will use evidence from her work and her Masters to  become a Chartered Engineer.

A runner in her spare time too, Emma’s energy levels are as high as they’ve ever been. “I know people will say there are only so many hours in the day. But it’s all about prioritising,” she said.

Emma’s work is far from done. The next chapter promises to be one of excellence, excitement and, of course, energy.

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