Posted by on 21 June 2017

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Dave Gregory
Mechanical Engineering Manager
Technical Services

During my 45 years in the Engineering trade I noticed a marked reduction in the recruitment of apprentices to industry and now welcome the re-introduction of the University’s scheme to support not only the HE sector of trades and skills, but all aspects of business in general.  Luckily, especially in engineering, there are still enough “Old School” technicians and machinists around to pass on the first principles of the trade to our up and coming successors in the shape of our apprentices.

How are apprentices embedded within my team?

I have three apprentices in my team of eleven Technical Services Technicians, based in three workshops across campus.  All three areas, Engineering in Harrison, Physics workshop and Geography workshop, give the apprentices a diverse experience in working in specific environments, with quite a mix of materials and tools, people, cultures, and customers.

The apprentices rotate through each workshop area for a four month period of the year, therefore allowing them to learn specific skills pertinent to the machines and tools in those specific workshops.

They are equipped with the necessary “tools-of-the-trade” and of course the vital protective equipment, to not only manufacture world class components and apparatus, but to keep them safe whilst doing so.

The whole team of qualified artisans consider the training of the apprentices to be a vital element of the structure of our workforce here at Exeter to be able to leave a lasting legacy to the community as a whole.

How apprentices make a valuable contribution, and add value, to my team

Apprentices not only make a valuable contribution to the university and industry in general but also to the working community campus-wide, now that they are being incorporated into every aspect of business.  I find that they keep the other members of the team on their toes, as they require the more longstanding members of the team to delve into their own archives of skills, and experience in offering the apprentices the best experiences that they can give them.

I rely on the qualified technicians to operate as mentors in my absence, as I can only be in one place at any given moment, but luckily am confident enough in their talents that they will be presenting a professional example to the apprentices, so that they can understand the level of accuracy and achievement that is expected of them.

My experience managing/mentoring an apprentice

It’s a very rewarding experience mentoring and managing an apprentice because it offers us the opportunity to witness the development of someone with great expectations, few skills and an open mind, coming to fruition through hard work and innovation.

Watching them learn from scratch through to being a qualified, gifted and capable confident tradesperson is a privilege.

I have been fortunate to have mentored apprentices before, in the late seventies and thankfully the principles remain the same, as does the work ethic of qualified competent professionals in their respective fields of expertise.

It is truly like watching the flower emerge out of the soil through to full bloom, as they become an asset to our organization.  As with everything in the mentoring scenario, there are the ups and downs of life, but leading by example is an aspect of the job that keeps me on point, and is a working model of what is expected of them once qualified.

Managing apprentices “Off-the-job” training time

It isn’t always easy to manage the “Off the job” training time as we in engineering manufacturing, often have deadlines for particular jobs that need to be in services to suit the ever demanding needs of both students and researchers alike.  Thankfully we as managers know where the priorities lie with regards to the university community and make allowances for the shortfalls in speed and expertise that all apprentices experience during their training.  Planning a time constrained job is a necessity when one has to take into account that the apprentice is only working 80% of the time on the shop floor, and the need for the job to be in the hands of the recipient are still apparent or even urgent.

Conclusion

In my opinion there is no better investment that we can make than in enthusiastic entrepreneurs, and in our up and coming workforce.  There isn’t a surplus of skilled engineers and artisans out there anymore.  We at University the Exeter are making a name for ourselves by investing in people, or better still the future by lending a helping hand in developing and honing enthusiastic people’s skills and talents, and best of all we are creating a pool of experts that we have first refusal of.

In a nation short changed for so many years and robbed of opportunity, we’re making it happen!

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