Grainne Convery is typical of so many young people who during A-levels was encouraged down the university route only to find it wasn’t for her. 

She left a computer science course at Queen’s after a year and a half and tried different roles including barbering before finally finding her true vocation at the age of 25. 

The one thing she did learn at university was that sitting at a desk all day was something she didn’t want to do for the rest of her life. And Grainne is now in her element learning to be an electrician on the NIE Networks plant maintenance apprenticeship course, and she is one of five females on a course of 28.

She says: “I have worked in male dominated areas before so I wasn’t put off by that, however it was still a bit daunting – just because you don’t know how other people will take to you.   

“However, I’ve had no issues and I don’t see myself being treated any differently than anyone else.”

Grainne started in September and knew very quickly she had found what she wants to do in life. A typical week involves spending a Tuesday in class at Northern Regional College in Ballymena learning legislation, maths and the basics of electrics.   

Every other day she is either in the training school, learning how to maintain different pieces of plant equipment or on site where she gets the chance to put what she has learned into practice. 

She has found that the mix of classroom and practical training has proved a perfect way for her to learn: “Everything to do with the training and mentoring has been great. 

“Both training instructors and apprentice co-ordinators have been so supportive and very welcoming. They are extremely easy to talk to and always willing to answer any queries or questions that you may have – nothing has been too much trouble. 

“I really enjoy the people I’m working with as well and the fact I’m getting the opportunity to learn something completely new.   

“Everyone doing the course has been great – our group has become very tight knit and it’s great to have people you get along with who are all having the same experience. 

“I’ve really enjoyed getting out and learning on the job and I have found that really suits me. I hope to become a fully qualified Plant Maintenance Electrician and progress further in the company. 

“I’m really happy I decided to go for this, the pay as you earn aspect of the apprenticeship programme really appealed to me and I’ve found that you are always learning on the job. 

“I know I will never get bored as I will always be out in different places and no two days will be the same.” 

While more women are considering STEM careers Grainne feels that not enough is being done to promote opportunities in school careers departments. 

She explains: “I think especially at A-level, the focus is on getting you to university when there are so many other options out there. I had to do my own research to find the NIE Networks apprenticeship programme.


“I definitely think more women will enter the profession and I would just say to anyone considering it not to be put off by the fact that it has been traditionally male dominated, once you’re in you will love it.” 

The company also runs a popular scholarship scheme of which their current Head of Transmission Strategy, Caron Malone was a successful participant. 

Indeed, Caron is one of youngest female leaders in the company. 

The 35-year-old, who is mum to Shéa (2) and is married to surveyor Ciaran, qualified for the scholarship while studying for an electrical engineering degree. 

Last year, the NIE Networks scholarship was awarded to 12 students across engineering courses at both Queens University and Ulster University, with plans to expand the programme further. Now as part of her remit she also runs the scholarship programme recruiting and mentoring students which has to offer even more places in 2024. 

As an engineer, Caron’s area of expertise involves working to find ways for NIE Networks to bring more renewable energy onto the electricity grid. 

Her career choice was natural as her dad was an engineer who raised her and her four sisters to aspire to any job they wanted. 

She says: “I know that engineering is still a career which girls maybe aren’t encouraged to go into but for me it was just something I grew up with. 

“Gender never came into it. I was always into science and maths. All my sisters have gone into STEM careers as we were brought up to believe we could be brilliant at whatever we wanted. 

“Electrical engineering as a field is very broad and diverse and when I started my degree I wasn’t sure what road I wanted to go down.” 

For Caron it was the opportunity offered by the NIE Networks scholarship that gave her the chance to experience different aspects of the profession so that she could discover which area she wanted to specialise in. 

The scholarship programme available for a variety of degree courses offers a £3,000 annual bursary, as well as paid summer placements with the company. 

There is also a year’s paid work and fast-track graduate job on graduation. 

For Caron, promoting the scheme is easy as she knows firsthand the benefits. 

“For me it very much opened my eyes to what power engineering and electrical engineering involves,” she says. 

“It made what I was learning about on my degree course much more relevant and that was invaluable. You get to work in different parts of the business at NIE Networks and see a variety of jobs and discover just how diverse it is. 

“It helps you to decide what it is you like doing and what struck me was the huge variety of work. I found power engineering was such an important and meaningful area that it was where I wanted to be. 

“People tend to only think of NIE Networks if their lights go out but there is so much to it that it is difficult to understand just how much is involved. With my job I work to help our business deliver the energy strategy for Northern Ireland to achieve 80% renewable energy by 2030. It’s important and exciting work.” 

While still in the minority as a woman in the energy business, Caron is optimistic that the landscape is changing. 

She continues: “I never feel like a woman engineer, just an engineer. I may have once been the only woman in the room but not anymore thankfully. 

“I think part of the challenge is to get people to study the right subjects and get the right degree so they can take up one of the many jobs within STEM and that includes men as well as women.” 

NIE Networks sees people as its greatest asset and is committed to diversity and inclusion. The scholarship and apprenticeship schemes are two of the many ways into a career at NIE Networks. As the company looks to grow its workforce to deliver the energy transformation in Northern Ireland, they are also developing their Higher Level Apprenticeship (HLA) pathways to offer even more opportunities to begin a career at NIE Networks.

NIE Networks has launched the application process for its award-winning Apprenticeship Academy. For further information on a career within NIE Networks, click here.