Faye Banks left school with no GCSEs. Now Faye is head of North East operations for National Grid. We sent student reporter Erica to find out how Faye did it.
Faye discovered engineering at the age of 16 whilst working at a local manufacturing plant. Since then she has achieved academic success and earned herself a career that she loves.
A true inspiration to others, Faye spent her childhood in local authority care and in secondary school really was not engaged in learning. For Faye, life was about day-to-day survival rather than the future. With no GCSEs under her belt Faye was advised to join the military as she was ‘not academic enough’ to go to college. Feeling as though she had few career options and with low confidence, Faye picked up casual work as a line operative in a local manufacturing plant, and it was here that everything changed.
Working on the production line, Faye became frustrated when she had to wait for an engineer to fix her machinery when it broke down, so, she asked the engineers to show her how to do this herself. From this point on, there was no stopping her. She enrolled on evening classes and retook her GCSEs, achieving excellent grades. Then, with her GCSEs done, and feeling confident, Faye applied successfully for an Advanced Electrical Engineering Apprenticeship.
At a time when she was thinking ‘I don’t want a job, I want a career’ Faye felt that doing an apprenticeship gave her a structured career plan that she could follow. On completion of her apprenticeship through which she gained an HNC in Electrical Engineering Faye was taken on as a systems engineer, which was the beginning of a great career path which would see Faye become an electrical engineer and quickly promoted to team leader.
With a passion for engineering and a drive to succeed, Faye took every opportunity available to her and continued to educate herself, achieving several degrees, including a Master’s Degree in Engineering, Master’s Degree in Technology Management and an International Triple Accredited MBA. Not content with this, Faye is currently studying for a Master of Laws Degree.
As head of North East operations Faye leads a team of over 100 engineers and her work involves managing a number of high voltage stations and planning maintenance. She works across departments, dealing with different things every day, and finds that there is a ‘great depth of role’.
Overall, Faye says that the best part of her job involves helping others to become professional engineers and having won the Young Woman Engineer Award, and being the youngest fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), Faye works hard as an engineering ambassador to inspire the next generation of engineers.
Faye has been involved in lots of engineering initiatives and has worked alongside the Open University and the BBC to produce inspirational STEM documentaries as well as working as part of a team to develop an apprenticeship framework.
Faye couldn’t be more enthusiastic about engineering as a career and told us that demand for engineers in the UK is high, including female engineers, telling us that,
If you are a girl, don’t go thinking that engineering is for boys either. Even though, when I started out I was pretty much the only female working in a factory of over 500 men, I have seen an increase in the number of women working in engineering over the years, and I am living proof of a successful female engineer.”
Additionally, one of the benefits of an engineering apprenticeship is training on the job. In hindsight, Faye said that she would have liked to have understood her options for vocational study and apprenticeships while she was still at school as they enable students like her a good way of learning practically whilst gaining qualifications.
Look at what possibilities are out there; this includes looking for a career with a variety of work, where you will not be bored. Furthermore, if you feel you are on the wrong path, it never too late to switch or start a career.
I encourage young people to find work experience. It is easily accessible and a ‘win-win’ for both young people and the businesses but students don’t always look in the right places, you need to be ‘proactive rather than reactive’. Additionally, volunteer work can be a good option, for example, the HR department of the National Grid offers voluntary work throughout the summer holidays that then helps those who want to go on to do the apprenticeship.”