It’s been a year since I started my graduate scheme at FairHeat and with the arrival of four new graduates in September, I can no longer claim to be one of the ‘new’ ones. My first year has seen me complete two placements within the company, on both New Build and Operations divisions. Through acceptance testing, site audits, and the analysis of heat network performance data, I have developed an understanding of what makes heat networks perform well and equally what makes them perform poorly. Being able to contribute to a more sustainable environment, by identifying performance improvement measures to increase efficiencies and lower carbon emissions, has also been thoroughly rewarding.
Although I have greatly enjoyed my first year, trying to successfully navigate through my first graduate role with a global pandemic thrown in halfway, has been quite a learning experience! For any new graduates about to embark on a similar journey, here are the main things I have learned and discovered so far.
Mistakes are an opportunity for learnings and growth
Although it may be hard to rationalise at the time, your mistakes are not as big of a deal as you think they are. Nobody, not even the most successful of people, will have had a mistake free career. Mistakes are going to happen, and instead of letting them discourage you, use them to your advantage. Looking back on the year, my most prominent learning curves have stemmed from my biggest mistakes and hardest challenges.
It may be cliché, but there is no silly question. It took me a while to get over the internal fear of appearing “stupid” In front of my colleagues. However, I soon came to realise that asking the question, rather than waiting for the answer to magically appear (it usually doesn’t!), is a much more productive and beneficial use of your time.
Utilise the support around you
Whether you are a part of a large organisation or small start-up, utilise the support from your colleagues around you. Being part of a small organisation that has a strong focus on continuous improvement and training, has meant that I have been able to seek support, advice and learn from other graduates through to senior engineers. Everybody has their own skills, knowledge and experience, and I have found that the lunch and learn CPD sessions at FairHeat are a great way for this to be shared throughout the team and support those less experienced.
Seek continual feedback
Feedback, both positive and constructive, is vital to your success and ongoing development, especially as a junior. I have found feedback to be extremely beneficial in my first year as it clarifies expectations, helps you learn from your mistakes and builds confidence in your ability. Having a structured personal development program at FairHeat, has allowed me to easily identify my strengths and focus on my development areas, and set realistic objectives for the future.
Take all opportunities
At FairHeat, we have a rotational graduate program where you spend 6 months in different areas of the business – New Build and Operations. I quickly discovered that 6 months goes by very quickly, and to make the most of it, it is best to get involved in as many projects and tasks as possible. Seek increased responsibilities and push yourself out of your comfort zone! Within each rotation I am tasked with an individual graduate project, which have been great opportunities for me to conduct research, network outside the business, and produce work which can benefit the company and the wider industry. To further get engaged with wider industry, I would recommend getting involved with industry groups. Some examples of these in the heat network industry include CIBSE YEPG, CIBSE YEN and the District Heating Divas (young professionals).
It is an exciting time to be part of the heat network industry
For the UK to meet its net zero carbon target by 2050, heat networks will need to service 18% of the UKs heat demand. Given that they currently only account for 2%, the industry needs to rapidly grow over the coming years. BEIS recently published the ‘Heat Network Skills Review’, which outlined the skills gap in the industry faces.
I feel privileged to be part of a company who are actively recruiting graduates with the aim to ‘inspire and develop future leaders of the industry’, however, I am equally aware of the challenge the industry faces. As a female STEM graduate, I hope to use my platform to help promote the industry and recruit a young and diverse talent pool, to bridge the skills gap and ensure Heat Networks reach their potential in the UK. Specifically, I hope to raise awareness to current chemical engineering students, who like me at the time, are likely unaware that there are great opportunities for them within the heat network and building services industry.
With 12 months left on the scheme, I am excited to see what I further discover and learn. Personal development is an ongoing journey and I know that over the next year I will continue to ask questions, expand on my industry presence by utilising all opportunities and support available to me, whilst learning from my mistakes along the way!
My question to any other graduates, what have been your greatest discoveries within the first year of your graduate role? I would love to hear your thoughts in the in the comments.