"I am enhancing visitor experience at the National Portrait Gallery" - #IamCIBSE


I am an Electrical Engineer

I am encouraging diversity within the industry

I am enhancing visitor experience at the National Portrait Gallery


Peter Noel BEng(Hons) CEng MCIBSE is an Electrical Engineer at the National Portrait Gallery. A Grade 1 listed building, completed in 1896. It houses the most extensive collection of portraits in the world from the 16th Century to the present day. We asked him to tell his story...


Peter’s Story
I started my work career as an apprentice progressing to an installation electrician.  I attended college on a part time basis studying for City & Guilds qualifications in Electrical Installation work.  I excelled while on these courses achieving full distinctions throughout many of the modules. I was then encouraged by my lecturer to continue studying to a higher professional engineer level.
I started work in the Facilities Maintenance sector working for a number of high profile companies including a news broadcaster, investment banks and prestigious office buildings. This gave me an insight and appreciation into the various services and systems needed to make a building fully operational from a business perspective while providing a comfortable environment and adhering to compliance requirements.
I continued studying alongside work and eventually completed an ONC & HNC in Building Services Engineering (BSE). I then enrolled for a 4 year degree at the University of Hertfordshire to study for a BEng (Hons) in Building Services Engineering.
I enjoyed working in Facilities Maintenance especially the aspects of no two days being the same and the versatility of the job in general.  I saw an advert for the Electrical Engineer Position at the National Portrait Gallery and applied. I thought this job would be slightly different and unique compared to what I was used to. I was right in my judgement and was fortunate enough to be offered the job after applying.
I am often asked why an Electrical Engineer is necessary at the National Portrait Gallery.  I suppose at first it is not obviously apparent because it’s just natural that Portraits first come to mind.
It is important to note that every single Portrait has to be lit in a certain way to enhance the visitor`s experience and the lighting has to be at certain levels in order to allow for conservation requirements. The lighting systems throughout the Gallery are extensive and are designed to be flexible with dimming facilities, certain exhibitions and events dictate the constant rotation of some of these portraits and all of the above is where I come into the equation.
Finally, just like other buildings, the electrical infrastructure and distribution systems throughout the building are vast and are needed to support mechanical, computer, security and fire systems.  To gain a better appreciation of the importance of these aspects - just imagine a large building without any electricity in today’s age!
My role at the National Portrait Gallery allows me to work alongside other engineering professionals to ensure the integrity of these systems are fully maintained, functional and compliant in relation to the latest legislation.  

On Building Services Engineering…
The work of a Building Services Engineer can sometimes be a new concept to the general public. Everyone knows of the Architect and what they do, but it is the Building Services Engineer who brings a building to life and makes it operational.  We operate silently in the background and tend to be the unsung heroes in the industry. Maybe it’s time to start blowing our own trumpets and gain more recognition for what we do.
Our skills are highly sought after and transferrable within different sectors within the UK. It’s common knowledge that there is a skills shortage of engineers in order to meet future construction targets. Our decisions have a significant and direct impact on the environment in terms of reducing carbon emissions. Through innovation, investment and emerging technologies we have an opportunity to establish ourselves as significant leaders in the built environment.

On being part of CIBSE…
Peter with CIBSE President Stephen Lisk 
I was first encouraged to join CIBSE as a student member in 1991. My lecturer made us aware of the benefits of membership such as the monthly journals, events and potential links to jobs. I quickly recognised the importance of having professional body registration.
I started my working life as an electrician and now I am a Chartered Engineer.  This title is highly respected within the industry by peers and other professionals. It has been challenging and taken a lot of hard work and effort to progress, but like anything with hard work it is achievable.
Being a CIBSE member enables you to keep you up to date with the latest developments, technologies and debates within the industry. It also provides opportunities for networking to meet other professionals similar to you. It has opened many doors for me during my career and I have recently started to get more involved in activities organised by CIBSE by becoming a member of the regional committee.

On diversity within the industry…
I am 1st / 2nd generation Black British of which I am very proud.  I noticed during my career progression that Building Services Engineering was a sector that was currently under represented from Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic (BAME) applicants in general.  It has also been accepted that this is the case by research and surveys into this area.
I have recently joined another organisation which promotes and advises Engineering as a rewarding career. The focus is to increase awareness to BAME applicants as well as other interested applicants into the Engineering sector. This is done by a number of means including providing mentoring, workshops and guidance. It’s just my little part to hopefully be a role model and offer encouragement to applicants in whatever they do.  The National Portrait Gallery also has a BAME staff network.
I achieved my current status with the guidance of many lecturers and fellow work colleagues over the years for which I am eternally grateful. We all have different talents and potential but sometimes you have to be told this by others to start a particular journey. Without CIBSE members doing the same and without their help, diversity in the industry would be more difficult and no doubt a longer process. It’s not about preferential treatment it’s about the best person for the job regardless of who they may be.

What advice would you give to someone considering beginning a career in the building services industry?
The world is your oyster!  Don’t be afraid to start from the bottom and work your way up the ladder.  The experience you will gain will be invaluable and will make you a better Engineer.  I started my career as an apprentice electrician and a lot of what I learnt then still helps me to this day.
Over the years Building services systems have evolved and become more sophisticated and efficient. Embracing this expanding technology as a career will be very rewarding and you will make significant contributions to the industry.
Learn a little something from everyone and don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Think outside the box, be innovative, don’t be complacent  and do your best. There are always those around you who will be willing to help, if not try to find them.

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