Pipeline People: Kirsty McDermott

Can you tell me a bit about your background and how you got started in the pipeline industry?

I left school at 15 to study at college, but soon realised this wasn’t for me. I carried out a careers aptitude test, which then identified that I would be suited to a career in engineering, so I found a local training academy that matched interests with a career.

I did an advanced apprenticeship in welding and fabrication and I attended college part-time and obtained qualifications in manufacturing engineering, while also developing skills in welding, sheet metal and machining.

In 2012, I secured a place on the Gas Transmission Engineer Training Program at National Grid, during which time I worked in the engineering team and started a foundation degree in gas transmission engineering. These both provided opportunities for me, including a technical lead role on National Grid’s first Network Innovation Competition Project.

Following my degree, I was keen to continue my learning and become a specialist in an area which interested me: welding. National Grid supported me to commence an MSc in welding engineering, which I am still studying to date.

I have had a range of roles, ranging from Project Management of Innovation Projects, to Quality Assurance on Construction Projects.

What is your role at National Grid UK?

I am a Senior Engineer – Welding, in the Engineering and Asset Management Team and the nature of the role means I work all over the UK. My key areas are around welding and materials, ensuring that National Grid and our contract partners comply with the requirements for construction on our assets.

I am considered a subject matter expert for welding and materials, and my knowledge, experience and support is key to providing assurance to the business to ensure the assets we construct are safe and reliable. National Grid is responsible for the supply of the UK energy and my team is a key part of that chain, involved in the UK asset pipeline integrity, in terms of construction, maintenance and compliance with company, national and international standards.

What are your key areas of interest in the pipeline industry?

My interests are around pipeline integrity. We are operating an ageing asset, which is pivotal to the UK’s energy infrastructure and it’s important to be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking and managing the network. Having the opportunity to work with engineers from different businesses and looking at how we may be able to apply their technologies to better understand our network really interests me.

What’s the most memorable project that you’ve been part of?

The most memorable project for me was leading the project to trial the Halfwave ART tool in an inline inspection. This involved me working closely with our control room teams to get them on board to the idea, as it meant operating the network differently to how we have done before.

I also had the opportunity to work with field operations teams in Scotland and everyone was so supportive and really wanted to help make the project a success. It was on the back of this trial that we then looked to kick off other projects understanding different technologies allowing us to better understand our network condition.

My first full time role following my training program was as the Engineering Lead for Project GRAID (Gas Robotic Agile Inspection Device), which was a ‘world first’ in terms of developing a robot to inspect unpiggable pipelines, and something I’m very proud to have been a part of.

What project and industry challenges have you overcome during your time in the industry?

A lot of the projects I have worked on have had their own challenges! But I think that’s what makes it so rewarding when you get it right. On a personal level, I have had to deal with challenges too, which probably have span throughout my career to date.

Often being the minority in the room, I have had to deal with my fair share of stereotypes, who will judge you and your abilities before they get to know you, but that’s just helped me to shape me to be the person I am today.

Without that will of wanting to prove people wrong, I wouldn’t have found myself with half the opportunities I have. I’ve found with those situations, you just need to have one person in your corner encouraging you to keep going. I’ll be forever grateful for the mentors I’ve had who have helped to give me the confidence to develop.

Why is it important to be involved in industry groups, like the Women’s Engineering Society?

I’ve found so much value in being a part of the Women’s Engineering Society. It’s good to open your network wider than just your specific industry.

Particularly in the field of engineering, a lot of the challenges we face are the same, particularly around skills shortages, so I feel it’s important for everyone to know they’re not alone even though sometimes it can feel it, especially if you work in remote locations, or are a minority in a group.

Having a resource of likeminded people you can call on is so helpful and rewarding – especially when knowing you can help others too.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out in the industry, particularly women?

Don’t be afraid to try again. Sometimes it can feel quite overwhelming especially being ‘the only girl in the room’ or feel like you don’t have a voice. This can knock your confidence, so it’s important to stay true to yourself, have confidence in your ability and don’t be afraid to speak up. Above all, just be sure to do what makes you happy!

How has the industry changed since you entered your career in pipelines?

There has been a big push on climate change, and I see that has changed outside of the industry too in recent years. Personally, I have seen the drive for innovation in the industry.

I felt like there used to be a lot more “we’ve always done it this way” responses, instead of opening processes up to a challenge, becoming more efficient and finding better ways of working.

Do you have any predictions for the future of the industry?

The UK’s Net Zero by 2050 target has an increased focus and drive across the industry to look at how gas networks can support the energy transition. We will require significant acceleration of the UK’s approach to delivering infrastructure that can support decarbonisation of power, transport, domestic heat and industry.

Many reports, including the Net Zero-The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming report in 2019 by the Committee on Climate Change, highlight that hydrogen will need to play a key role in meeting the UK’s environmental ambitions. There is an opportunity to repurpose our existing natural gas pipelines and assets for hydrogen.

To realise the potential of hydrogen in the energy mix, there is a greater need for cross-industry and cross-sector collaboration and innovation.

What excites you about being in the pipeline industry?

I feel proud to work for a company such as National Grid, particularly with campaigns such as our recent ‘Building the net zero energy workforce’. The recently published report suggests to meet our industry needs there is a requirement for 400,000 jobs between now and 2050, all with a diversity of skills, to get the UK to net zero.

This couldn’t be a more exciting time to be in this industry. 

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