Apprentices are a joy to talk to. What’s important is capturing their openness and enthusiasm and letting their true voice come through.
“When I walked through the door, I didn’t know how to switch on a machine,” says Matthew Rayner. “Now I know how to mill, how to turn, I’m producing drawings and I’m costing projects. I’m totally enjoying it.”
Matthew is one of five second year apprentices at Siemens in Newcastle. Another is Dominic Hogg. “Within our first few weeks we were learning practical skills, working on machines, doing tasks we all enjoyed,” says Dominic. “I never thought I’d get training as good as this. I speak to friends at other companies and they’re just stood alongside someone all day. This has to be one of the best apprenticeships around.”
Getting onto it isn’t easy: there have been around 50 applicants for every place in recent years. The latest intake have varying backgrounds – some have completed ‘A’ levels, one had started a foundation degree, another had worked as a CCTV engineer – but all were drawn to a highly structured, hands-on learning programme away from the traditional classroom.
“The quality of teaching here is totally different to anything I’ve had before. The instructors are more dedicated and they’ve got more time,” says Lee Hunter. “The amount of knowledge in this business is amazing,” adds Jack McKiernan. “It’s a great environment to be in. After ‘A’ levels I considered university but opted for hands-on experience of engineering. I’m glad I did.”
The first project the group tackled in their second year was a computerised visualisation of all the machines in the apprentice school and a proposed new layout. Measuring every machine and turning it into a 3D model was only part of the task. Perhaps most valuable of all, they learned about team working.
“When you work as a team and bounce ideas off each other you get better outcomes,” reflects Jordan Dixon. “We’ve learned to play to each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” says Matthew. “Someone will always check what someone else has done,” adds Dominic. “And if we hit any problems, we’ll brainstorm them on the board and agree what our priorities are,” says Lee.
Their second challenge has been to design and manufacture a model tower crane. It must have a jib that can rotate around 360 degrees and be able to lower and lift a large tin of baked beans, though the team is confident their design will lift a lot more.
“It’s a great way to use the knowledge we’ve acquired from studying for our BTEC at college and then take it a step further with the experience of the Siemens instructors,” says Matthew. Adds Lee: “There’s a great sense of achievement when you see your ideas come to life in front of you. Plus the project gives you a massive insight into the processes the company has to go through, like the real-life frustration of ordering parts.”
“Every day we’re learning something new,” says Dominic. “I’d done a bit of CNC work before the crane project but wasn’t totally confident about it. Now that I’ve made parts for the crane, it’s given me a big boost and I realise how much I’ve learnt. I’m even dreaming about the CNC machine now,” he laughs.
“We started with just a sketch on an A3 piece of paper, and we’ve transformed it into that,” says Jack, pointing to the impressive piece of engineering. “It’s our project. We designed and made it all. Two weeks ago it was still parts, and now it’s come together. It was quite daunting to start with, but we did it.”
Their enthusiasm for their apprenticeship is genuine and heartfelt. “I come in every day and can’t wait to get started,” says Matt. “Older apprentices said how good the course was and what a great atmosphere there was, so we knew what to expect,” says Jordan. “You get out what you put in,” is Dominic’s advice to future apprentices. “You’ll have a quality time. Enjoy it,” adds Jack.
All five hope for a long career with Siemens and some want eventually to study for a degree. Soon they will rotate through different departments to get a taste of the opportunities on offer. “I just want to keep progressing,” says Matt. “I’d like to go as high as I can,” agrees Jack. “Didn’t most of our directors start out as apprentices?” asks one. They did indeed: virtually every one of them.
Image: Gareth Lowe