Women help plug drainage skills gap

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Lanes drainage engineer Annie Trafford.

Drainage specialist Lanes Group is encouraging women to break through so-called traditional workplace barriers – in a move that will also help ease potential skills shortages predicted by industry bosses.

More women are becoming drainage engineers and field managers at the company, where they are reporting positive attitude to their roles within the workforce.

Kellie Potter was a senior scheduler for Lanes Group’s Utilities Division. She was just about to move with colleagues into a new ultra-modern operational HQ.

Yet, she wanted a new challenge. So, she applied to become a field manager, training and supporting drainage engineers, delivering Lanes’ front line service as Thames Water’s sole wastewater network maintenance partner.

After working as a scheduler for six years, it is a change she has not regretted.

Kellie is part of the Central North team, based at Gerrards Cross, in Buckinghamshire, and has joint responsibility with technical specialists for managing a team of drainage engineers delivering reactive drain unblocking services across North London, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.

She takes new recruits through induction, actively supports in training them, then manages and coaches them as they respond to when they are sent out to unblock drains and sewers using jetting van packs and JHL CityFlex jetting and vacuumation tankers.

Kellie says: “Supporting my staff is very important to me. We want to retain and build a great operational team that always delivers great customer service. It’s about building a strong rapport and good communication.

She says: “No one has made a fuss about me being a woman. It’s been business as usual. Lanes as a company wants to give everyone an equal chance, and support people with ambition, and my colleagues have been great.”

Central North Operational Manager Casey May said: “Kellie’s a very good manager and is well respected by her team. She’s also a role model for other women. There are no barriers at Lanes, and Kellie is proving it.”

Former painter and decorator Annie Trafford is also thriving as a drainage engineer working for Lanes’ Thames Water operation based at Kidlington, Oxfordshire.

She says: “At the depot where I work is very supportive and welcoming. On the operational side, it is still very male-dominated. But Lanes provides everything needed for women to work alongside men.

“I love my job because it involves meeting different customers every single day. When we first see them, they’re often upset because of a drainage problem, such as a sewer flood or a blocked drain. Helping customers is a big thrill for me. If I can leave customers happy, it makes me happy.”

“I’ve already persuaded a female friend to come and work as a drainage engineer at Lanes, and would recommend it to others.”

The Energy and Efficiency Partnership, a collaboration between Government and utilities, including Thames Water, to promote skills development, says half of the current employees will leave the UK utility sector by 2023, resulting in the need for 200,000 new recruits to bolster an already ageing workforce.

Conrad Ashby, Lanes Group Framework Director for the Thames Water contract, said: “At Lanes, we want to break down barriers and challenge outdated conventions, so all our staff can develop and prosper in whichever career they choose.

“In what is a very competitive recruitment environment, where a mix of traditional and new skills are needed in a rapidly changing water utilities industry, it is vital for us to support people, like Annie and Kellie. They have the right abilities and attitudes to do an excellent job for our customers.”

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