National Apprenticeship Week: From rock star to engineering star
‘At 16 I wanted to be a rock star but my Mum told me I needed to learn a trade. 14 years later in 2020 I was appointed Engineering Director at Stagecoach South West’
I went through a stage while completing my GCSE's where I lost interest in school and thought I was going to be a Rock Star, playing Bass guitar in a band that we felt was going to be the next Guns'n'Roses – at 16 we have all these dreams. It was actually my parents that encouraged me
to get a trade as their advice was that you could use that trade for the rest of your life all over the world. That advice made me seek trades that I may be interested in.
I applied for many apprenticeships at 16, not just mechanical. But at 16 I didn’t even realise what was going on in engineering within the PSV industry. I was given a couple of
opportunities at the time but I felt pulled towards the Bus apprenticeship as I had a genuine interest in what actually goes on in an area I had taken for granted for many years whilst travelling on buses in London. I was also reassured that the apprenticeship scheme was robust and worthwhile. I started the Stagecoach Apprenticeship Programme in 2006.
Highlight of the apprenticeship – being able to learn without sitting in a classroom for four years. It is hands on, it matures and develops you and finds the right balance between
practical and academic work. Also, and without doubt, the guys I did my apprenticeship with were absolutely spot on and made it enjoyable. Plus the added bonus you get paid and have no debt after four years!
There were some challenges – having a self-critical personality, within the first 6 weeks of my apprenticeship I was comparing myself to the top fitters in the depot. I was too hard on myself and needed to realise that its four years of learning, and not just four years, I am still learning to this day. However it's important as an apprentice that you keep the right attitude, you work hard, constantly ask questions, continue development outside of work, take genuine interest in mechanics and the product and be ready to take guidance from all the fitters, be open minded and learn best practise. Take yourself out of your comfort zone.
Support within Stagecoach was very good; from Dorothy, Clare, tutors and mentors in the garage and my fellow apprentices at the time. It was important for me as an apprentice to continue to build the positive relationship with my mentors at the depot so I could get full support from them.
In my third year as an apprentice I moved to West Ham depot which was one of the larger depots in London. This took me out of my comfort zone, I had to meet new mechanics and mentors who I was able to get even more knowledge from. I continued as a fitter at West Ham for approximately 2.5 years after my apprenticeship where I was also Union Rep for a couple of years.
I moved into an Assistant Manager role within Stagecoach both at Romford and Plumstead depots for 2/3 years then felt I needed to broaden my horizons and was ready to progress. An opportunity came up as an Engineering Manager with Arriva which I took. This was a fantastic opportunity for me and again an example of taking yourself out of your comfort zone to develop your skills. Subsequently I returned to Stagecoach London as Engineering Manager for a year and a half then March 2020 started as Engineering Director for Stagecoach South West.
The apprenticeship has helped me get to where I am today. If had gone into full time education at 16-22 I doubt I would be where I am today. It matures you as a person and develops your personal and intellectual skills.
It gets the right balance between learning hands on and with classroom learning. It also provides you with an income which is more than enjoyable at 16/17/18. I would strongly encourage anyone, and not just those who are hands on through childhood, because in all honesty I wasn't, I was more academic, but I always looked at this as an opportunity to improve my hand skills as well. Anyone who feels University may not be for them, an apprenticeship within this industry, is something I will never regret and would encourage.
If you are considering an apprenticeship, to get the best out of it, you need to fully absorb yourself within it for the four years. It builds you as a person, provides you with an income and gives you a qualification and trade that is multi-lingual around the world and something which industries and employers need.
Make sure you take yourself out your comfort zone, push yourself and spend time reflecting.
Ask questions, ask, ask, ask, you’re an apprentice
Why am I changing this?
How does this work?
What are you working on?
Can I do this?
Can I help?
Don’t become stagnant; you’ll get out of it what you put into it!