It would be fair to say that 30 year old Paul Farthing has faced his fair share of bumps in the road when it comes to his career, yet his perseverance has led him to find a challenging and rewarding role and he believes he’s the man he is today because of his experiences.
Farthing is the first to admit he’s not the most academic of people, but he worked hard at school. Sadly his GCSE results didn’t go as well as his mocks had implied, due to some revision issues. He was advised that an apprenticeship could be a great option for him, still giving him the chance to go to university if things went well and so he joined a scheme at the local Rolls-Royce factory.
Indeed his apprenticeship offered him the chance to improve his education, with part-time college leave that allowed him to gain an ONC, HNC and then a HND in Electrical and Electronic Engineering.
His supervisor praised his success and guided him towards becoming an electrical fitter, later offering him office and design experience. But then the first bomb hit.
Times were getting hard in industry and Rolls-Royce announced that they would not be renewing the apprentices’ contracts. They were given six months to find new jobs.
But Farthing found a great way to move on. Rolls-Royce was able to sponsor him through a degree and so he joined year two of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne’s BEng (Hons) Electrical and Electronic Engineering course.
Although Farthing had found the leap from HND maths to second year degree maths very tough, he persevered and graduated in July 2003.
Next came the chance to start a full-time career in electrical engineering. However Farthing found these types of jobs in the north hard to come by and decided to take up a temp job in IT to make ends meet whilst he looked for a permanent engineering position.
Although not planned, this became the beginning of a series of temporary jobs, and Farthing began to see the appeal of working in a temp/contract environment.
Employed as anything from an IT specialist and web designer to a technical author, he gained a wide range of experiences and skillsets during this period. Although lacking job security: he would have to regularly look for a new role, he liked the idea of being his own boss.
“Permanent jobs may have pensions and a specific amount of holiday a year, but contract jobs are different. They are for a specific amount of time and you’re required to fulfil the requirements of the contract for the client so I basically work for myself,” he says.
That’s not to say Farthing didn’t try permanent employment. Since completing his degree in 2003, he’s had many temporary positions, but he’s also held three permanent roles - as a project, plant and contract engineer. Sadly they weren’t for him. One offered low pay with minimal chance of progression and another had an unfriendly working environment. Often frustrated with how his career was going and facing low morale when up against antagonistic employees, Farthing finally got a break that changed his career for the better.
A friend and fellow IET member gave Farthing the heads-up that there was an opening for a permanent position for a plant engineer at Sellafield and so he applied and was awarded the job. Far from his home in Newcastle, Farthing would travel down and work there for a week, staying with his friend and then travel back up to his family for the weekend. The travel was tough, but he loved the work.
He found that the experience and knowledge he gained there over two years gave him the sure footing he needed to move from staff to contractor and so he made the leap.
“I thought to myself: I’m ready to go on my own,” he says. “I applied and won a short term contract to come on board as a plant reliability engineer for Johnson Matthey Catalysts. As it was only for four months, at the same I applied to return to Sellafield as a contractor.”
“At Sellafield I am providing the plant with support of making sure all new and existing equipment conforms to IEC61508 – EC&I Safety Systems. I'm looking at existing designs, contributing towards modifications and technical report writing, all of which had to adhere to the site conditions and satisfy the NII,” he continues.
Farthing managed to secure a 12 month rolling contract to provide EC&I support to AMEC's Newcastle office in April 2010. He is working from the office enabling to return to his family every evening, after his work at Sellafield kept him away four nights a week. His work involves assessing the adequacy of software within the programmable electronic systems against modest integrity requirements. He also offers technical support in the specifying of nuclear radiometric equipment for the fuel routes within nuclear power stations.
Farthing now considers himself to be a successful senior EC&I engineer and plans to reach CEng status in 2010. He looks back on his career positively and although it’s often been a tough ride, he believes it’s helped him to reach his current success.
“I’m an optimist, I’ve had a lot of bad luck during my career, been in a lot of awkward situations, so I don’t take anything for granted. The skills I’ve gained over the years are now all coming together. I don't think of any of my career as bad experiences, it’s all life experiences starting to gel together. All I’ve been through has made me the man I am today,” he concludes.