Louise Patterson | Northumbrian Water Group

Louise Patterson | Northumbrian Water Group

Meet the fabulous Louise, Head of IT Operations at Northumbrian Water Group (NWG). This incredible advocate for "learning while you earn" has been a game-changer with NWG's Digital Degree Apprenticeship, offering practical experience and a debt-free degree. Talk about opening doors to tech careers!

Louise is all about creating inclusive workplaces that celebrate diversity and help individuals thrive. In her interview, she dives into some of NWG's amazing initiatives like the Young Citizens Work Experience Festival, the Women in STEM working group, and female-only assessment centres. No wonder NWG has been recognized as a Great Place to Work for Women for three years running!

Get inspired by Louise's journey and the fantastic work she's doing at NWG.  

Hi Louise, thank you for taking the time to speak to us. Firstly, please can you start by talking me through your position at Northumbrian Water Group? 

My name is Louise Patterson and I am Head of IT Operations and Resource Management at Northumbrian Water Group.  I look after our Service Desk, User Experience, Cloud & Infrastructure, Networks, Service Management and Quality Assurance teams.

Please tell me about your story so far. How did you get into the world of Tech? 

Whilst I was studying for my Marketing degree at Newcastle University, I decided to do a year in the industry for my third year.  I worked at IBM in the Office of the CIO which gave me great insight into IT telecommunications and I got the opportunity to work on some of their key projects, which I went back to support with during the summer after I graduated.  This placement was invaluable as it gave me experience in the workplace which helped me stand out against other graduates and really helped me work out what I had a passion for and ultimately led me into a career within Technology.  Following my final year at university, I joined the Asda Technology Graduate scheme starting as a Project Manager and this gave me a great platform into working in Tech as I spent 10 years getting the opportunity to move around various roles within their Technology team including Service Management, Governance and Programme Management. Before moving to Morrisons Technology team where I became Head of Service Management before moving back to the North East to my current role with Northumbrian Water.

Work experience counts for a lot, and university isn’t the only pathway to a career. Please can you tell me more about why you are an advocate of being able to “learn while you earn”? 

Absolutely, I have my year in the industry to thank for the opportunity I got when first leaving university.  Times have changed from when I went to university, young people are leaving with a degree, a lot of debt and little to no work experience.  So, I’m a real advocate of apprenticeship schemes which I think give young people a far better start in their career.  Earn as you learn and a degree completely debt free - it’s just a no brainer for me and why we have launched our new Digital Degree Apprenticeship scheme earlier this year.

NWG’s Digital Degree Apprenticeship sounds incredible! Please can you tell me more about it and who will be able to access it? 

Of course I’m really excited to be welcoming our new apprentices starting in September.  They will spend 4 days a week working in our head office in Durham and then spend every Friday at the University of Sunderland to study for their Digital Technology degree.  We’ve worked with the University of Sunderland to put together a broader technology degree which is the IT consultant pathway.  This allows the apprentices to study a broader range of topics rather than specialising in one area.  Throughout the 3 years they will move to work in a different teams, around every 6 months, which will give them a taster of the various roles they could go into once they’ve completed the scheme and they can gauge from the learning in their degree and from their work experience, what direction they want to take their career in.  As a Women in STEM myself, it’s fantastic to see that around 70% of the apprentices that are joining our Digital Degree Apprenticeship are female.

You mentioned that you are also setting up a work experience programme for Year 10s. Why is it important for students to make the most out of work experience and how can employers make their work experience offering more valuable to students?

Yes, alongside our Innovation Festival at the Newcastle Racecourse in July, we’re also holding our very first Young Citizens Work Experience Festival.  This is open to Year 10 or above students, to attend onsite at the racecourse between 9th – 12th July.  We have a fantastic programme where they will have the opportunity to build up specific skills e.g. teamwork, communication, critical thinking, creativity amongst many more.  As a takeaway they will be able to put together a CV of all of their skills online.  There is also an opportunity for schools to get access to our online work experience if they can’t attend in person.  It’s so important for young people to gain key transferable skills which will help them to be successful when applying for apprenticeships or jobs in the future.  And employers need to put more focus onto the younger generation to give them these opportunities as they are our workforce of the future.
We spoke about the importance of diversity in the workforce and whilst there needs to be a drive to get more women in STEM, it is also equally important to foster an inclusive culture that welcomes everyone, and which will in return mean being able to retain great talent.

Please can you tell me more about the work NWG are doing to foster an inclusive environment?

Diversity is something I am incredibly passionate about and I am part of our Women in STEM working group where we look at how we can foster a more inclusive environment.  It starts with recruitment, and this is something we’re really working on and have seen some great results just recently.  When recruiting for the Digital Degree Apprenticeship we reviewed job adverts and our website to make sure this would attract a diverse group of individuals and adapted our recruitment process.  As an example, we held a female only assessment centre, as research shows that females have more confidence and perform better when they are not a minority in group exercises, and it is important for us to be inclusive and give everyone an opportunity to perform at their best.  This received positive feedback from female candidates.  As an employer NWG is well known for being a great place to work and we’ve been recognised as a Great Place to Work for Women for the past 3 years.  But we are always reviewing how we can continue to make it an inclusive environment, whether that being flexible working amongst many other support offerings.

We spoke about the importance of having great role models. Who is/are your greatest role model/s and why?

I’ve always been surrounded by strong female role models in my family from grandmothers, my mother and my older sister, which has probably had more of an impact on me than I’ve previously realised.  My whole career has been in Technology, where women are a minority, but I think this early influence has given me the confidence when I have been the only women in a room, to not feel intimidated.

If there was one book, song, and/or podcast you would recommend, what would it/they be and why?

A book I’ve just recently read is ‘Zcomomy’ by Jason Dorsey and Denise Villa.  It looks at how Gen Z will change the future of business and what to do about it.  It’s an interesting read and gives some great insight for leaders to think about when recruiting or working with Gen Z.  I think sometimes different generations can be critical of each other, so it’s important to better understand young people better as they are the future of our workforce. 

Any last words of inspiration? 

Say yes to opportunities that come your way to help work out what you are passionate about and always be your true authentic self.

Interviewed by Bella Snell