• 3 February 2020

Taking the wheel of your apprenticeship

Before starting his apprenticeship in London, Jake Styles had always dreamed of becoming a Racing Driver. Now taking the wheel of his new career in engineering, he tells us about his on-going journey to become a Structural Engineer.

Growing up all I wanted to be was a professional Racing Driver. I’ve always had a passion for cars, especially racing cars, and even considered becoming an engineer in the motor industry. My favourite subjects at school were Product Design, Business Studies, PE and any tasks that involved problem solving, but after a while I realised I wanted to keep my hobby and job separate otherwise I wouldn’t have anything outside of work to keep me busy (plus I didn’t have the finances to buy my own racing car).

I come from a design and construction background because my father was a Lead Design Engineer before becoming a Project Manager for residential constructions in Surrey, so it seemed natural to start studying engineering. He worked on a few sites close to our home and I used to get up extra early to go with him, watching the diggers and dumpers as they made their progress before I went to school. I’ve always been interested in the work my father does, looking over planning permission or building control drawings, even doing some work for him on site to help me understand how buildings are constructed and the basics of drafting and modelling. At college, I was tasked to design a steel structure as an introduction to structural engineering and this sparked my interest to apply for work experience at Waterman before taking on a Level 3 BTEC.

Although I didn’t take a gap year, if you’re not 100% sure about the career you want, a year out can be a good way to gain work experience and ensure you’re signing up to something you really want to do. When I visited Waterman, I spent a lot of time talking to the employees and our Learning and Development Manager, Nick Harrison, about apprenticeships and the routes available. This is something I would highly recommend everyone does while on work experience as knowing where a certain pathway will take you is important. Also, if an employer can see you’re making an effort to meet their expectations for a position within the company, you already have an advantage over a candidate they’ve never met. Networking with others and making an impression is very important, so do it well!

Applying for an apprenticeship is very simple. Firstly, you need to find an employer who offers the scheme and then submit your CV. You get called in for an interview like when you apply for any normal job, but one of the main differences to starting university as part of an apprenticeship is that you have to enrol at the employer’s university of choice. It’s very simple and straight forward, but there are loads of people to help guide you through the process if you’re unsure.

I started working at Waterman a week before my course at South Bank University began and was lucky to already know most of my team members thanks to my work experience the year before. I sit next to my mentor and he is always keen to help me understand the work I’ve been tasked to do, particularly when I’ve struggled a little bit with the pace of university where I only have lectures once a week. It can feel like they’re cramming in everything at once, but I’m getting used to it and know I just need to be prepared.

Starting my apprenticeship means I’m not only learning to obtain a degree, I’m also gaining vital knowledge from professionals in the industry that full-time students simply won’t have. I’m currently doing a lot of technician work, such as drawing plans and creating 3D models, because the first year of my degree focuses on design. I’m really enjoying it, even more so because it gives me a huge advantage at university as I can practice my skills every day on some of our projects, such as Ealing Filmworks (a large mixed-use residential development), The Ruby Triangle (three high-rise residential buildings) and some involvement in the new Piccadilly lights and Marble Arch development in central London.

My apprenticeship has made me realise how much I enjoy learning about materials and their properties as well as providing a good service to our clients, architects and contractors. Sending out a completed drawing always makes me feel proud, but my career in engineering is certainly very different to my aspirations of racing a car around a track. While I’m still able to follow my passion outside of the office, I now see myself becoming a fully qualified and Chartered Structural Engineer in the future. It’s a good reminder that our career choices can change but you’ll always end up doing what you’re meant to do, so long as you’re willing to go out and get it. Image courtesy of Jonathan Elsey Motorsport Photography.

Jake Styles

If you would like to learn more about National Apprenticeship Week, please visit the Government’s website by clicking here.

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