Belfast man and Power NI’s Director of Customer Solutions (NI), William Steele talks about the digital divide impacting today’s young people

Everyone at Power NI is actively behind Business in the Community’s Digital Donations Appeal and we’re thrilled to be able to play our part with a £20K funding donation.

This year we mark a decade as leading energy brand ‘Power NI’ and 90 years of servicing local communities with their electricity needs. Opportunity and diversity within any workforce has never been more important. The education of all our young people will not only benefit them and their families but also the future economy and our society in general.

By people and businesses proactively coming together we can be more powerful together. At Power NI we aim to be part of as well as create our own initiatives which contribute to communities and individuals becoming more energised, proficient, creative and well-informed.

But to do that successfully in Northern Ireland we need to reduce the digital divide to help young people and their families access devices, data and connectivity. This will enable more children to  achieve their potential and go forward to contributing confidently and competently to the future world. Digital access was a huge issue before COVID struck but the past 12 months has really brought it to the fore.

At Power NI we have a passion for helping young people and this is evident in our community programmes. From Brighter Communities launched back in April 2018 to our Spring 2021 Teaching Hero Award partnership with Belfast Live.

And we’re loving every minute of it – from helping dance groups on Belfast’s Shankill Road, Newtownards and Omagh, ice-skaters in Dundonald to hurlers, wheelchair basketball players and Belfast BMX young riders. We’ve also supported special needs children in Carryduff and hearing- impaired young people in Banbridge and Portadown, Early Years and After-School clubs, special schools in Larne and West Belfast and helped primary pupils keep warm in their Armagh school’s outdoor classroom.

I joined Power NI as a young graduate and with early roles in customer engagement and communications I know the power of developing skills in good comms, much of which in today’s world, are digital and social.

Like the global energy sector, the realms of business and commerce is fast paced and ever-changing and our young people need the tools as well as the support to keep abreast of everything and to do their utmost best.

Change is exciting, though sometimes challenging and if our young people are well-equipped with knowledge and skills, they will be well up for any challenge that comes their way.

We’ve embraced a number of changes in the past year with most staff switching to ‘WFH’ – some immediately and others more gradually. Employee wellbeing has always been a priority and in 2020 remote working meant extra initiatives from the HR team and Power NI’s staff volunteers to keep everyone feeling involved, supported and engaged. We’ve been lucky to have our Connect Staff Engagement Forum and Blues Busters volunteers to keep morale up whilst we all continue to be physically apart. Competitions and virtual events have been a great way to keep us all connected during these challenging times.

Looking forward to future technology and projects our digitally equipped young people may want to get involved in, Power NI is delighted to be part of the Belfast Maritime Consortium led by Artemis Technologies and its development of a zero-emissions hydrofoil ferry between Belfast and Bangor.

This project follows our more recent launch of Northern Ireland’s first hydrogen-powered double decker buses alongside Translink and Wrightbus through our parent company, Energia Group.

Our commitment to young people is part of our DNA; people are such an important part of our business. Whether that is within the Power NI team or the homes, businesses and farms that switch on their lights with us daily. We strive to serve all of our customers with the best customer service and protect the most vulnerable in our society, going to great lengths right across our business to look after those people when they need us most.

I see at first hand the impact of helping and guiding young people (and older people) to develop skills, self-esteem and to play their part in business and the community via being a ‘behind the scenes’ volunteer Board member of charity, Street Soccer NI.

It’s a brilliant charity and I truly admire the team who really make a difference to men and women – young and older – who have experienced challenges in terms of homelessness, mental health and unemployment. It really helps bring about positive change in people’s lives.

Now I look forward to seeing the benefits of reducing the digital divide locally and meeting tomorrow’s Power NI staff who will take on the many different and amazing roles within our business from analysts and traders to technical people, marketeers and customer service personnel.

We can really make a difference to nurturing our ‘tomorrow’ colleagues by helping young people get digitally connected to help support their learning and ultimately protect their futures.