As SMMT is recruiting for its first ever apprentice to join the Member Services Team, we spoke to SMMT President, Gareth Jones, about how his apprenticeship helped get his career started, and his advice for people considering the apprentice route.
What made you decide to choose an apprenticeship?
Like many teenagers I had little idea of what career path I wanted to take. I grew up in east London, where most young people either followed their parents’ career paths, worked in the print industry at Wapping or worked in a market such as Billingsgate or Smithfield.
However, when I was 15 I attended an open day at a local manufacturing company on a scheme very similar to the ‘See Inside Manufacturing’ initiative currently seen throughout much of the UK automotive industry. The open day allowed me to experience a manufacturing environment for the first time and it really appealed to me. I loved the diversity of skills and functions that were required to design and make something. Most importantly, I was able to understand the entry mechanisms to employment and training within a manufacturing industry. I met an apprentice at the company who explained their experiences and the training that they were receiving.
For me, it literally was a light-bulb moment! I could be paid to train and gain qualifications for a career in an industry that excited me. I got a company name and address from the back of a light bulb packet, Thorn EMI Lighting. I wrote to them and after an entry exam and a series of interviews I was offered a four year apprenticeship.
What did you do during your apprenticeship?
I completed a four year Indentured Technician Apprenticeship with Thorn EMI. The Thorn Group was a major UK manufacturer during the 1970’s and 80’s designing and producing electrical products such as televisions, appliances and lighting. I worked in the Domestic Appliances Division which designed and manufactured microwaves and cookers. Although the apprenticeship lasted four years, the company paid for me to attend college over a five year period and complete an ONC and HNC in Mechanical and Production Engineering. For those five years, a typical week comprised of four days working within the company and one day and two evenings spent at college.
The apprenticeship was approved by the Engineering Industry Training Board (EITB), now known as SEMTA. This ensured that my training adhered to specified standards which guaranteed that I would receive a nationally recognised qualification that would be valued by my current and future employers.
What skills and experience did you gain as an apprentice?
It was a steep learning curve. My first year was spent in the apprentice school with 30 other apprentices from around the Thorn EMI group, completing projects to learn basic fabrication skills such a milling, turning, CNC operation, casting, wiring and welding. Every apprentice had to complete each project to a set standard before they could progress to the next project, with all projects being completed within a 48 week timeframe to successfully complete the first year. I still find it amusing to meet ex-apprentices from other companies, not only in the UK, who did exactly the same projects during their apprenticeship’s first year.
The remaining three years were spent working in a variety of departments such as Quality Control, Production Planning, R&D and the Design Office. The final six months were spent working in the Advanced R&D department – where I would eventually be employed.
The skills and knowledge that I gained during that four year period gave me a very hands on and rounded industry education, which encompassed many disciplines.
How was taking the apprentice route beneficial to your career?
The apprenticeship provided me with an excellent platform on which to build and develop my future career. The skills and knowledge gained as an apprentice have been transferable across the many manufacturing industries in which I have worked. It has also meant that as my management career has developed, I have personally experienced and overcome many of the challenges that my staff face day-to-day. Therefore, I feel I can support them more effectively in overcoming these challenges.
What would you say to anyone thinking of applying for the SMMT member services apprenticeship?
An apprenticeship can provide an excellent foundation for a very rewarding and fulfilling career. There are many types of apprenticeship at different levels so it’s important to do your homework and research what you are looking for. By taking the apprenticeship route rather than full time university, I don’t feel that my career has been restricted at all. It’s really a question of fit and what is right for you!
I’m delighted that SMMT will employ an apprentice and I know that the successful applicant will have a wonderful opportunity in a great organisation. During my apprenticeship and throughout my career I’ve been fortunate to be mentored by some very inspiring people and I know that the SMMT apprentice will also have the opportunity work with some very gifted, supportive and inspirational colleagues. I look forward to meeting the successful applicant and wish them much success.
SMMT is now taking applications for the Member Services Apprentice position. View the job role and apply here.