Faye Banks: An inspirational engineer
National Grid employee Faye Banks is living proof that hard work really does pay off. She was recently named the youngest ever fellow of the Institute of Engineering and Technology – two decades after leaving school with no qualifications. Here is her inspirational story.
My journey into engineering started when I was 15 and growing up in local authority care. I spent five years living in children’s homes and with several different foster families. Life at that time was really based on survival and I was living day to day and not really planning for the future. I was totally disengaged from the educational system and left school at 16 with no real qualifications. I moved into my own council flat and started claiming job seekers allowance. Desperate to get off benefits, I went to get some careers advice where I was told I was basically I was a “write-off” with very limited options. I needed to work to survive so I began doing an unskilled job at a local plastic factory but after six months I became bored and frustrated.
One day a critical machine broke down and production completely stopped, I had to wait for an engineer to come and fix the faults on my machines. When he arrived I was very interested and inspired by how important the engineer’s skills were for the organisation and how this ultimately impacted on plant productivity. This was a light bulb moment for me as I realised that this is what I wanted to do with my career.
I went to talk to the manager about their higher apprenticeship scheme but my heart sank as I realised I did not have the appropriate qualifications. I decided to return to education to re-sit my qualifications and over the next year, I combined 12-hour shifts with evenings at college and working every minute. I was exhausted and soon began to realise how much pressure I had put myself under by going to college. The following year I gained 10 As at GCSE and was thrilled to finally start my apprenticeship. This is when reality started to sink in. I was only earning £6,000 a year as an apprentice and had to take on three extra jobs to make ends meet.
Throughout my career, I have continually asked myself what would give me the edge over my peers and I keep coming back to the same thing – qualifications. I continued with my studies and achieved a Master’s Degree in Engineering, Master’s Degree in Technology Management and an International Triple Accredited MBA. In 2004 I won the Young Woman Engineer of the Year title which was an enormous achievement for me. I was delighted as I had never dreamt I would be able to achieve anything like that. It was concrete proof of just how far I’d come. The award paid dividends for my career and I finally felt I had arrived as an engineer. I was also asked to get involved in many UK engineering initiatives – working alongside the BBC and the Open University to produce a number of STEM documentaries, as well as being elected onto the Institute of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) UK Communities Together Project team and National Apprenticeship Working Group.
It had long been a personal goal for me to work for National Grid and in 2013 I was lucky enough to be offered my current role where I lead a team of over 100 engineers in the North East. This involves proactively maintaining the electrical transmission network and my teams deliver the maintenance plans which help our company make decisions about future investment in our network.
In July, I was privileged to become the IET’s youngest ever fellow. Now my priority is to give some of my time back to the IET and to work with the Institute to inspire the next generation of engineers. Outside of work I am a keen runner and busy mum of two young boys and feel very lucky to be able to combine life as a parent with a high-pressured management role. Engineering has been a life-changing experience for me, and although I appreciate that’s not the same for everyone, no one can deny the range of opportunities out there and I am living proof that this can be a great career for women.
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