Joshua Firmin is a deaf engineer working with renewable energy at Horan Power Engineering Ltd
Name: Joshua Firmin MSc MIET AMEI
Job title: Senior Consultant
Company: Horan Power Engineering Ltd
What do you do?
I design, model, and provide technical advice and recommendations to solar and wind renewable energy generation owners and maintenance companies. I also get involved with diagnostic testing of assets and big data analysis.
What does your company do?
As well as offering renewable energy consulting, we also support DC links, perform site and document audits, high voltage operational and maintenance services, training services, system and safety control services, and construction management. We are also beginning to get involved with battery storage.
How does what you do help tackle climate change or achieve net zero?
We support our client by ensuring the maximum efficiency and uptime of renewable energy. This not only involves onsite works maintaining and testing equipment, but also analysing the condition of the plant, performing diagnostic testing and predicting when equipment is likely to fail. We can then take steps to minimise the failure and replace or refurbish it to maximise generation efficiency and minimise unplanned downtime.
How is engineering helping tackle climate change or achieve net zero?
New developments are coming online every day. As the technology improves, we can improve the efficiency and renewable generation of solar and wind farms. The more efficient and cheaper this technology the more that can be installed bringing us closer to net zero.
Could you describe an average day working in your job?
My average day is hard to describe as days and weeks can vary dramatically. Some days can be very mundane – reading and writing emails, reports, and technical recommendations. Other days involve visiting sites and testing cables, transformers, and electrical protection systems. Some days are spent analysing dataset containing records from thousands of assets, each asset may have tens if not hundreds of individual types of data – I try to find pattens or anomalies using various software, by eye, or with my own code. Some days are full of meetings, some I spend hours reading online or in books to research solutions for our clients.
What made you want to do engineering?
I fell into power engineering by chance. I have always been interested in electronics, but I came onto the job market in the summer of 2008 – the financial crash. Being deaf I was unsuited to working in shops and am excluded from air traffic control and the railways. I applied to everything I could. One notable response from a well-known high street clothing shop was “we have filled our quota of deaf employees, we have a mildly deaf lady on the returns desk.” I was not provided this in writing unfortunately.
I managed to get work experience at my local hospital working on steam and electrical systems. I had undertaken some tests for a number of apprentices but heard nothing. In the early summer of 2009, I received a call from SSE inviting me to an interview that day. I was offered the job later that same day. It wasn’t until my induction week that I discovered that I had one of the test highest scores in the country and one of 11 out of almost 1000 applicants to be trained in high voltage power distribution (about 80 other applicants were trained as electricians or gas).
What route did you take into engineering and why?
I was taken on as an apprentice for almost 5 years, completing a double level 3 BTEC and a City and Guilds certificate. Since I fell into the role, I had little choice in the route into engineering. Later I undertook a masters degree (partly to secure my status as an engineer on paper and partly because this would only take two years rather that 6/8 for a bachelors)
What personal qualities are important to do your job?
There are a few important qualities I believe are important:
Has being deaf impacted your work as an engineer in any way or given you any insights that have been helpful in your work?
Deafness shouldn't be a barrier to working in engineering however, being deaf, there can be issues with safety on active construction sites (for example vehicle reversing warnings) and also with communication and language skills. I use dictation, mindmap and other supportive software regularly and I’m also dependent on my collection of Phonak Roger equipment. Some of the safety equipment I have used requires headphones - sometimes this can be linked into my roger equipment, other times I use a medical audiovisual analysis app on my phone. This being said - when it rains, I have to decide at what point I must pack away my equipment since none of it is waterproof.
The accumulation of almost 1,000 hours of additional speech and language lessons in school (yes I worked it out once!) means that my speech is generally described as "posh". This means that, unless I inform people, I am not perceived as deaf. this has its disadvantages in that sometimes those people around me who may need to be aware of my deafness may not be so. To aid in this I try to have brightly coloured hearing aids - where safety is concerned there is no good reason to hide them. Currently, I have purple hearing aids with flashing LEDs on top.
What do you like most about your job?
I like the variety. Every day is different. Every site is different. There is something new or stimulating in everything in this industry.
What advice would you give to young people who might be interested in a career like this?
Don’t be afraid of the maths. It gets easier with repetition and normally there are only three types of mistakes we make. With experience we can generally recognise something is wrong very quickly.
Be prepared for a life of continuous learning. You cannot learn everything about this industry in your first 10 years and the industry is moving forward very fast. I am constantly reading, watching webinars, or on training courses.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
I do a lot of reading - some of it is related to my industry but a lot of my leisure reading is fiction. I also do a small amount of computer programming and maintain my own cloud server. I also do a lot of walking, cycling, and canoeing.
Thanks to the The National Deaf Children’s Society for helping to source this case study.