In 1997 Ian started as an apprentice at British Engines. Now 22 years later, he’s still working within the company as a Manufacturing Manager at Rotary Power, part of the British Engines Group.
Here, especially for National Apprenticeship Week 2019, Ian talks about what his British Engines apprenticeship has enabled him to achieve…
What I gained through my apprenticeship
I’d always had an interest in subjects like Design and Technology at school, and always thought an engineering apprenticeship was the route that I wanted to go down. Of course, it was an added benefit that I could earn whilst learning!
British Engines stood out because of its reputation, it’s big in the North East and so living in Consett, and having an engineer for a dad, I was already aware of the company. Everything drew me towards British Engines and its recruitment process filled me with confidence that it was going to be a good place to work.
My decision to do my apprenticeship at British Engines is actually how I learned to drive. I would drive the car to work, and my dad would drive it back, and then I’d have to get the bus home. It gave me an incentive to pass my test quickly!
During my apprenticeship I was placed at Rotary Power, where I worked predominantly on horizontal and vertical milling machines. That’s where I was assigned my mentor. He was the smallest person in the factory and I was the tallest, which is where where my nickname ‘Tiny’ came from!
Throughout my apprenticeship I learned numerous skills, from using a wide variety of measuring equipment, to programming computer numerical controlled (CNC) machines, calculating feeds and speeds for the different machining processes, as well as developing my communication and interpersonal skills through communicating with peers and managers. I learned from some very skilled engineers.
During my apprenticeship I completed my ONC, HNC and HND qualifications in Mechanical Engineering on a day release programme.
How an apprenticeship enabled my next steps
Six months after completing my apprenticeship I was promoted to a Team Leader. I was fortunate to have this opportunity so soon after finishing my apprenticeship, but I’m certain that if I hadn’t worked so hard and proven myself over those four years as an apprentice, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to progress so quickly. This role helped me realise that a management/leadership position was something that I definitely wanted to pursue further.
I was then offered a role as a Production Engineer; designing methods for how jobs were going to be held in machines and creating offline programmes. I got to put the skills I learnt as an apprentice into practice.
A Project Manager vacancy then came up to coordinate the manufacture of 3,000 pumps, and so through hard-work and expressing my ambition to move into a management role, I got that opportunity.
Over two decades after starting my apprenticeship, I’m still here and now working as part of the management team!
Additional opportunities as a result of my apprenticeship
When I came into my current role as Manufacturing Manager, I had the opportunity to do my degree in Leadership and Management.
It’s a tough decision when you leave school, whether to go to university or study an apprenticeship? I wanted to be hands-on initially, but still wanted to get a degree and through my apprenticeship with British Engines I’ve been able to achieve both.
I got my degree 15 years after I started with the business, and it happens at different times for everyone. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do when I came out of school, so doing my degree later in my career meant that I got the chance to explore and figure out exactly what I wanted to specialise in.
Looking back, working on the shop floor and as an apprentice, was really helpful. You get to know the people you’re working with and managing; you gain an understanding of the processes used within the business and learn to develop effective ways to support and communicate with your teams based on your own experiences.
My efforts throughout my apprenticeship were recognised through the annual apprentice awards ceremony, notably I gained the HT Lamb award for ‘Apprentice of the Year’, something I recognise as one of my greatest achievements throughout my apprenticeship and career.
The opportunities available to our current apprentices
The British Engines Group was all based on one site in Byker when I started my apprenticeship, and now the company has grown significantly as a group, both locally and globally. Its opened up far more opportunities for apprentices, and its not just a case of going down a traditional engineering route anymore, you can choose to be a lot more technical and specialised.
If there was one thing that I could go back and change about my apprenticeship, it would be that I’d want to go on a trip to Brathay, a team-building and leadership outward bound course which is now offered to all apprentices.
Now a mentor to apprentices myself, I’ve seen students go to Brathay and come back transformed in to more confident individuals. It allows our apprentices to develop their leadership and decision making skills and is a fantastic learning experience; a really valuable part of our in-house Apprenticeship + Scheme.