Apprenticeships : Class of 88
My Apprenticeship journey
It’s hard to believe that it’s over 31 years ago that I started as an apprentice at Siemens or C.A Parsons as the company was known back then. And how ironic that it’s in the very same building I’m sat in today, that the apprenticeship school took place back in 1988! Throughout that time, it’s certainly been an interesting journey. Here I share my story and why I believe apprenticeships are still just as valuable to industry now as there were back then.
Siemens has always been part of the family, (quite literally) with my Dad working for C.A Parsons for his entire career. I guess you could say it was in the blood! Starting his career as an apprentice himself, he worked in the heavy machine shop in various roles; a career he and I are both incredibly proud of. I’ll never forgot the memories of my Dad returning home with engineering drawings and my Mum angrily shouting, “For goodness sake John, get those drawings off the table!” as we sat down for a family dinner.
When selecting my GCSE subjects, it was clear I had a leaning towards engineering subjects including metal, wood-work and technical drawing and in following my Dad’s footsteps, I decided to apply for an apprenticeship with the business. At the ripe old age of 16, it was an exciting prospect to be embarking on an apprenticeship with such a prestigious company and having the opportunity to combine academic study with on the job training. That along with the chance to earn a weekly pay packet (even if it was a mere £55!) was a tempting offer.
I remember my first day at apprenticeship school fondly. It was 5th September 1988 and there were 50 of us enrolling at the time. There was a real sense of friendship, camaraderie and a family culture that remains at Siemens to this day. What’s really special however, is the fact that I still work with many of the people I met that day over 31 years ago, with 12 of us recently celebrating that anniversary.
As a business Siemens remains committed to dedicating time and resources to their apprenticeship programmes. An investment that is paying dividends, creating long- term value and a legacy of skills from employees who in some cases have been working for the business for many decades.
Keith Fawcett is one of those colleagues, and someone who every year to this day still sends me a ‘happy anniversary’ note – he’s a wonderful person and every time they land, those notes always make me smile. We still laugh about the day we started at the apprenticeship school. I looked about 12 and Keith about 22 with his full face of facial hair. That didn’t last long though, and I soon caught him up, growing up (figuratively and literally) at a rate that not only kept the seamstress busy lengthening my overalls but that also means I’m now six inches taller than my fellow apprenticeship buddy!
The apprenticeship school certainly provided a number of great opportunities for me personally and exposure to different areas of the business including operational machinery, welding, fabrication, lathe work, electrical and CNC machinery. On completion of the course, I was posted to the work services department, responsible for factory maintenance and it was here I spent three years maintaining machinery across the site, after completion of my apprenticeship I moved into the electrical drawing office where I continued my development.
Amongst the learning and hard work, there was certainly lots of fun and banter from the team to keep you going, and it’s those small things that help to make Siemens such a great place to work. That and a culture that supports the goals and aspirations of the individual is why I believe I am where I am today.
Then of course there are wonderful people like Alfie Miller, my former manager in the maintenance department. Always encouraging me to reach higher, he was very dedicated in supporting my application to study a degree course in Mechanical Engineering with Northumbria University of which the company subsidised. Invaluable skills that would support my subsequent leadership roles including a four- year secondment to Canada in 2013 as Head of Power & Gas and Service divisions. I met him last month for the first time in 20 years and thanked him for the support.
It’s fair to say that my progression through the business was fuelled not only by the programme and courses I was lucky to go on, but also driven by a curiosity and conscientiousness, which was recognised and nurtured by the people I worked with. But overall and as simple as it may sound, one of my main aims was always just to make my Dad proud… I hope I have!
Given the support and experiences I have had throughout my career, I’m very passionate in my role now as Managing Director of Siemens Service Power Generation to help others reach their potential and for employees to have their own tailored personal development plans.
Currently we have 25 apprentices employed in my service business in Newcastle, working across a range of areas including in the sales department, engineering and in various operational roles, including our customer sites. And today we’re proud to have two digital graduate apprentices to add to the team. With digitalisation forming such a big part of the future of our business, their fresh mindset is already bringing forward a wealth of ideas that are helping to simplify processes in the business. Apprentices play such an integral role at Siemens, bringing fresh insights and perspectives. This is hugely important and forms a fundamental role in helping us serve our customers in the best possible way as we continue to evolve and grow.
Overall, it’s true to say that in 2020, I’m just as much a fan of apprenticeship programmes as I was back in 1988. For me that journey is one steeped in learning and opportunity but also hinged by that sense of family that comes from the Siemens culture. It is these deep routed values that continue to support individuals across the business to grow and flourish. They are after all the future of Siemens and we all have a role to play in supporting that succession. Apprenticeships programmes aren’t enough alone though. I’m a big believer in the importance of chasing opportunities, pushing yourself and trusting in what’s possible. I’ve got a lot of people to thank who have helped me on my journey and I hope now I’m able to help others on theirs. For that and the friends I have made along the way, I will be forever grateful.