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National Apprenticeship Week: A Day in the Life of Charlie Thompson

Former Higher Apprentice Charlie Thompson gives us an insight into her time at the ESO and tells us what a Simulator Operator for our national control room training team does.

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How did you come to join National Grid ESO?

I joined via the Higher Apprenticeship scheme.

I went to a careers fare with friends from my school during my A-Levels. At that point I’d applied for university and was set on doing that, but a day out seemed fun! I took all the paperwork home and decided it was super interesting and an amazing opportunity, so I applied.

I was offered both my apprenticeship and my top university place but decided I couldn’t let the opportunity of the apprenticeship pass! Once I joined, I worked and studied for a foundation degree in Electrical Power System Engineering at Aston University.

I got to do various work placements around the ESO and then every six weeks, two full weeks of study at Aston University.

Joining the scheme had a lot of benefits but it was definitely hard work to study for a degree and work full time. I quickly had to become very good at managing my time to juggle working and studying.

However, it was worth it, I made the most amazing friends on the scheme and after two years I came into a full-time role after passing all my exams. I am also now about to complete a top up BSc in Engineering and Management, all supported by NGESO.

Can you tell us about your job?

I did various work placements during my apprenticeship including working on a substation for a few weeks! However, I’ve been in the same role since I graduated which is Simulator Operator in the Control Training Unit. I build and design the training simulations to put our control room engineers through their paces. It’s a really fun role.

Our control room engineers are all highly trained and the simulator is a way to test and throw challenges at them that they probably haven’t ever seen on the live system. This could be anything from transmission issues to a total system Black Start.

I work with two experienced Power System Engineers who assess the performance of the trainee on the simulator throughout the training.

I did have a short break from my role in 2019 when I went over to New Zealand to work for Transpower. Because I’d gone straight from doing my A-levels to working, I didn’t have the chance to take a gap year and always wanted to do some travelling.

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I had a colleague from New Zealand who had moved there so dropped him an email. He put me in touch with one of his managers and I was offered a short-term position. I took a sabbatical from the ESO, worked in NZ for three months and then travelled for two.

It ended up being such a unique experience for me. I just loved the blend of travel and work experience. I am so grateful to have had that opportunity.

The GB and NZ power systems have many similarities and differences. It’s a much smaller network over there so their teams are smaller, but we all pretty much do the same work. We all have the same target of keeping the lights on.

They have a lot more renewable generation over in NZ so it was really interesting to see how they are managing their system as we move to a more renewable system in GB.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you?

It’s been a strange time for me. When the first national lockdown ended last summer, I spent four days a week back in the office to resume training. It was great to be able to return to some normality however I’m now back to being based from home again.

We can run the simulator remotely but in reality, it’s difficult to train people because of the practical nature of our training. We need to be in a room showing people what to do.

I’m currently using the time at home to get ahead and build lots of training for the upcoming year. I’m also working on a couple of new projects alongside this. It’s all about adapting to the constant changing working environment!

I’ve learnt to make wellbeing and mental health a priority. I make sure to block out a lunch break in my calendar to go for a daily walk.

I’ve also taken up knitting! I’d highly recommend it as it can be so therapeutic and gets me off my phone.

It’s been tough not being able to see family and friends, but I can’t wait to finally be able to go for a roast dinner at my mum’s house.