Charging my way to a Technical Engineering career0After her apprenticeship allowed her to 'learn, work and earn at the same time', Emma Goulding, 25, now works for Siemens AGT (formerly Rolls-Royce) as a qualified Controls Engineer. Her role involves working closely with industrial gas turbines and software testing which both involve highly technical processes.
Emma gained her position and became fully qualified after completing an Advanced Apprenticeship in Technical Engineering to NVQ Level 3. Below, Emma explains why 'apprenticeships are an absolutely key route into industry.'
1. What company are you working for? What does the company do?
I work for Siemens Aeroderivative Gas Turbines (AGT) located in Warwick. The Siemens AGT gas turbine and compressor business supplies aeroderivative gas turbines, compressor systems and related services to customers in the Oil & Gas and Power Generation sectors. Originally developed for use in the aviation industry, the Siemens aeroderivative gas turbines are used as power supply sources in the oil and gas industry, in particular for the operators of offshore oil platforms where space is limited. Due to their efficiency and fast start-up capabilities, aeroderivative gas turbines are also used for the dependable decentralised power generation in industry – their flexibility helps meet peak electricity demands, provide emergency power reserves and stabilise the power grid.
2. What's your role within the company? What do you find most interesting and/or most enjoyable about the work you're doing?
I work in the engineering technical support part of the business as a controls engineer for Siemens AGT. Some of my day to day responsibilities can include providing reactive support for urgent operational controls issues, supporting and carrying out modifications to controls software used to govern our industrial gas turbines, and creating in-service documentation such as technical reports that can be used by other colleagues and field service engineers. My primary role focuses on software testing, which I find really interesting. To expedite the delivery of retrofitted gas turbine control software to our customers, I develop and execute specific engine simulation test cases for each engine being retrofitted, in order to minimise the chance of real engine issues occurring. It’s a very technical process, and can often have challenges when carrying out the testing, but is part of what makes it interesting to me. Understanding why the issues occur, and then finding solutions to that issue I find fascinating.
3. How do you expect your career to develop at this company?
As a progress in my current job role and continue to learn and carry out more complex, and detailed tasks, the greater my knowledge becomes. By doing this, I am able to be more competent at what I do, which then allows me to undertake a larger degree of responsibility with respect to some of the projects we work on in the company as controls engineers. I hope to one day have gained enough experience in order to become a technical specialist.
4. What kind of training do you get as part of your apprenticeship?
The apprenticeship I did lasted for just over 3 years, before I was fully qualified. The first year consists of full-time study at college where you learn basic engineering principles, through both hands-on workshop training and academic classroom study. I began studying for my HNC straight away as having done A-Levels, so was able to undertake a higher level of study immediately upon joining the company. After the first year of the apprenticeship, you integrate with your assigned business function. In doing so, you work for four days a week and leave the fifth day as an assigned day for college. Day release is a very common approach for training apprentices, one in which I believe works very well. Whilst I finished my apprenticeship some time ago, I’m lucky enough to be currently sponsored by Siemens to continue my education as a full-time employee. I’m currently studying Mechanical Engineering at university on a part-time basis alongside my controls engineering role at Siemens, which allows me to gain a greater insight into the fundamental principles of engineering and ultimately allow me to take my career progression to the next level!
5. Describe a typical study day on your apprenticeship.
If I’m at work, then I’ll be carrying out my assigned responsibilities. This may include preparing software for testing, or coding a new piece of software received from a customer’s site. If I’m at university then it’s a pretty jam-packed day - essentially we have a week’s work of lecturers crammed into one day so it’s pretty intense! During my first initial year as an apprenticeship, we always did work in the workshops at the beginning of the week, before focusing on other academic studies later on in the week such as CNC programming, electrical principles and health and safety.
6. How many years will your apprenticeship take? How does the course develop as you progress? What qualification will you come out with?
My apprenticeship lasted just over 3 years, but can take up to 4 years. It’s quite standard for apprenticeships to last between 3 and 4 years depending on the type of apprenticeship that it is. As the apprenticeship progresses, you generally study more detailed modules at college, and are normally given more responsibility in work so as to reflect your engineering knowledge that you’ve developed over the span of your training. It’s really good to work on projects that utilise the skills you’ve developed as part of your training, as it provides the ideal opportunity to further those skills and attain greater knowledge regarding the application you’re working on. At the end of my apprenticeship I was qualified with an NVQ Level 3 in Technical Engineering. By succeeding in my apprenticeship, I was offered a job within Siemens as a Controls Engineer, which was really exciting for me as it was a role I found really interesting.
7. Tell us the most interesting thing that's happened during your apprenticeship.
I’ve been lucky enough to have had several exciting opportunities throughout my apprenticeship. I’ve been able to travel to Montreal, Germany and Angola for work based projects. Getting real experience from visiting customer sites where we can witness the aeroderivative gas turbines in operation is very interesting too. I was involved with an engine installation in Germany, whereby we took just under a week to install a new engine. Opportunities like this are always really exciting, as it allows you to learn so much in such a short space of time.
8. What made you choose an apprenticeship rather than other forms of education?
When I finished my A-Levels, I was really unsure as to which direction to take. I actually applied to university, but rejected my offers as I just wasn’t sure it was for me at that time. After doing lots of research, I discovered apprenticeships. I actually started an apprenticeship with Rolls-Royce in what was formerly their Energy business, before that business was acquired by Siemens and re-branded Siemens AGT a few years ago. The offerings of the apprenticeship Rolls-Royce gave were exactly what I was looking for - being able to learn, work and earn all at the same time was ideal for me. It allowed multiple opportunities for career progression, as well as the future opportunity to attend university should successful apprentices wish to pursue that level of academic study. I really enjoy working alongside other engineers whereby we work on real-life projects - it’s fascinating to work on engineering projects that are actually related to things happening in the world. An apprenticeship offers a direct route into this type of experience!
9. How has your apprenticeship developed you as a person?
I believe my confidence and technical ability has grown tremendously since starting an apprenticeship. The gradual increase in study/work load allows you to grow as a person, in line with your professional abilities. Engineering is not just about technical ability - it’s crucial for me to know how to work in teams, and how to effectively communicate to others, often in other countries. My development of personal skills throughout the experiences I’ve had as an apprentice has allowed me to develop into an individual that feels confident in the work that I do. I was given opportunities to work on areas I really wasn’t keen on - presenting in front of others was always a little scary, but through presenting in various scenarios as a requirement from the business, it allowed me to overcome this insecurity and I actually enjoy presenting now!
10. What's your career ambition? How do you think your apprenticeship will help you achieve that ambition?
The next most immediate thing I would like to achieve is the status of technical specialist. To achieve this I will need several more years’ experience working as an engineer, but it is something I enjoy doing and something I definitely want to continue striving for. My apprenticeship allowed me to develop the foundation for studying engineering, and has provided multiple gateways into opportunities I wouldn’t have been able to have without having done an apprenticeship! I think one of the most important things I’ve learnt from my apprenticeship isn’t necessarily the engineering knowledge, but it’s more about the process of learning how to think. To think analytically and to think logically with a rational mind is very difficult to achieve. It’s something that has to be learnt over a period of time. By doing an apprenticeship, and starting from the very beginning, it puts you in an excellent position in terms of the development of your analytical mind so that by the time you complete your training you’re ready to become a fully-fledged engineer!
11. How else do you think your apprenticeship will affect your working life?
Besides the technical aspect to my apprenticeship, I would also say the working relationships you develop as an apprentice would positively affect your future working life. Being able to work collaboratively with people means you need to know how to communicate with those people, and how to build professional relationships. As you’re often learning alongside multiple people as an apprentice, you find quite quickly that you’ve developed multiple relationships with other engineers that only get stronger the more involved you get with other projects. This is extremely important when working on engineering issues, as to solve the problem quickly you need to have a professional understanding of the people you’re working with in order to resolve the problem as soon as possible. These key relationships with other engineers are some of the most important things I’ve been able to develop since starting my training.
12. Who has been the most influential person on your career and training during your apprenticeship?
There have been several key individuals that have held mentor roles to me throughout my training. I have found that most other engineers I met are very willing to share their knowledge with me, which is just great. There were several members of my controls team who were particularly supportive of me during my training, and spent hours of their time helping me with projects and explaining technical concepts to me in a way I could understand. These people have all had patience and understanding with me, as well as the other apprentices, and it’s absolutely one of the key reasons that helped my confidence increase. It also allowed my fascination for engineering to grow, as it encouraged more questions from me to other engineers! I found the knowledge they had to impart very interesting.
13. How much advice and support about apprenticeships did you get when you were at school/college? How did this compare with the advice you were given about other educational routes?
I was given no advice at all about apprenticeships. The general sense was that apprenticeships were for the less academic, or for those that couldn’t get into university, however I reject this view completely. Apprenticeships are an absolutely key route into industry. You are equipped with all the skills and training you need to integrate with industry successfully. This isn’t something that was as commonly known, and there was very much a pressure to go to university and study for a degree - this was seen as the ideal route to take.
14. What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing an apprenticeship?
I would absolutely recommend apprenticeships to anybody. They offer extremely versatile routes into industry that offers a genuine chance to learn first-hand the skills you need to work in that industry. You get paid to do a job you enjoy, and you also get to earn qualifications for that very job that you do. It is not just for school-leavers either - I was 20 when I first started as an apprentice, and perhaps would even say that being slightly older helped me progress a little faster throughout my apprenticeship. Some of the key benefits are that you get to work alongside industry professionals, on real-life projects and tasks, where you are given responsibility to undertake your training on company grounds - all whilst being paid.
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