Nicola Smith: Powering the Way for Women in Utilities

13 March 2024     News

In a remarkable journey from stockbroker to utilities trailblazer, Nicola Smith has shattered barriers and is now a vital member of Develop Training’s Internal Quality Assurance and Audit team. Her story is not just one of personal success but also an inspiration for aspiring female engineers to follow in her footsteps.

The Women’s Engineering Society’s latest data reveals that despite some progress, only 16.5% of the UK’s engineering workforce consists of women. The utilities industry tells the same sorry story, with the Energy & Utility Skills Partnership reporting that just 17% of employees in the energy and utilities industry are female, with fewer than 1% in the craft-level workforce. While these figures are an increase on previous years, it’s clear that there’s still much work to be done to achieve gender parity within these typically male-dominated industries.

Nicola’s journey stands as a beacon of hope for change

Nicola embarked on her journey with Develop in February 2017, where she started as a Lecturer in Smart Meter installation. Drawing on the skills she cultivated during her time as a hands-on installer, she quickly embraced her new role and has since transitioned to a vital position within the Internal Quality Assurance and Audit (QAA) team, showcasing her adaptability and commitment to the industry.

So, how did Nicola, a former stockbroker, end up in the realm of engineering and utilities?

Her trajectory reflects the timeless theme of personal growth and reinvention. Nicola recalls her initial entry into the workforce, where she started as a cashier with West Bromwich Building Society. However, she knew deep down that her path lay elsewhere, “It wasn’t really for me,” she admits. “But once you start moving along a particular career path, it’s difficult to get off it.”

Driven by a thirst for knowledge and personal growth, Nicola rapidly climbed the financial ladder, eventually becoming a stockbroker based in Canary Wharf. Despite her success, a lingering feeling that she was meant for something more led her to venture into retail banking and eventually she sought a complete career transformation.

Nicola’s innate curiosity and hands-on nature steered her toward engineering, and an apprenticeship opportunity at British Gas provided the perfect avenue for her to make the leap.

Gender roles in engineering & utilities

Breaking gender norms, Nicola became the sole female Engineer in her area. While her experience was largely positive, she notes that misconceptions about gender roles in engineering still persist.

Right up until the day I left, customers would say ‘but when will the engineer be here?’ and I’d have to explain that I was the engineer.”

Nicola’s determination to challenge these preconceptions, combined with her passion for learning and development, led her to her current role as an Internal Quality Assurance Auditor.

She explains, “I’ve discovered my real passion working at Develop. I’ve been able to learn and do things I never imagined I could. Going from being a stockbroker to a Quality Assurance Auditor has been really rewarding, and I can honestly say I’m happier in this job than ever before.”

“I would encourage all women to consider a career in the training industry. It’s an industry that welcomes diversity and fresh perspectives, and there’s a wealth of untapped potential waiting to be unleashed. Don’t be afraid to break those barriers, challenge the norms, and join us in shaping the future of training in the utilities industry.”

A supportive employer

Now, as part of Develop’s QAA Team, Nicola is responsible for auditing a wide range of gas and utilities-based training courses. This means that she’s involved in checking everything from pre-course communications and materials a delegate receives, to the content of the training course itself all the way through to the assessments and certification. The role carries a high weight of responsibility as if an External Quality Assurance Audit takes place and finds that the organisation is not meeting the standards set by the external Awarding Body then this could mean that Develop is no longer able to offer the qualifications.

Nicola elaborates on why she enjoys working for Develop,

Develop has been more than just a workplace for me; it’s a fantastic support system. They’ve not only supported my career growth but have also been incredibly understanding of my personal circumstances, including maternity and the need for flexible working around family life. Their support has given me the confidence excel in my different roles while still having a good balance between work and family.”

Nicola’s journey exemplifies the transformative power of determination, resilience, and a passion for breaking down barriers. As she continues to make her mark, she paves the way for more women to follow suit, inspiring change and progress in an industry that sorely needs it. Her story is a testament to the fact that, with the right mindset and opportunities, individuals can defy convention and excel in any field, regardless of gender or background.

To find out more about the QAA Team, please visit:

Professional accreditations