From apprentice to master
For many, an apprenticeship is the beginning of a long journey taking them from a childhood passion to the heights of their chosen profession. Pete Cowman has begun that journey.
Starting as a production operative, he went on into a structured apprentice training programme with Worcester Bosch, combining the best of practical knowledge with underlying theory. Here, we find out about apprenticeships from the inside.
What first got you involved in engineering?
My stepdad was involved in motorcycle racing and got me involved in fixing bikes. I liked and enjoyed that kind of work but never seemed to be able to follow it on.
Any reason why not?
Nothing had really been presented to me. It wasn’t until I stared working at Worcester Bosch at 21 that my interest in engineering came out again. It brought up the interest I had from when I was younger.
What did you start working there as?
I was a production operative in the press shop making metal parts that were going to be used on the boilers. After that, I moved into press setting…setting all the machinery up for the jobs. From there, I was reminded of my interest from when I was younger. I then knew I wanted to be in engineering and know how everything works.
What would have made you make that move when you were younger?
More awareness really…an atmosphere to show me that a career in engineering was viable for me.
Can you tell us how you moved on to becoming involved in the apprenticeship programme?
It was quite a strange process. My company had never had an adult apprentice before. I knew that an apprenticeship was the way for me as I needed some money to pay for my flat. Working as an apprentice, with perhaps some weekend work, I could earn enough to live.
So, I spoke to my immediate supervisor who put me in touch with Alan Ovington (the Plant Engineering Manager). I had to present my case and show that it was good to have an adult apprentice. Another issue was funding: when I first had a look around there were no avenues around for 25+ engineering. I had to keep going to different agencies to see if there were any funding opportunities. Alan said the company would pay half (as usually happens) but it was up to me to find the rest of the funding.
How did you end up getting the money?
I ended up offering to pay it myself as my Grandma had just died and left me some money. After the first year, though, they brought in 25+ funding so I didn’t have to pay it myself. I didn’t mind funding the first year myself because it was a dream to me…I knew what I wanted to do and I had that ‘spark’.
Most people think of apprentices as being younger than 25. Were there any problems with you approaching it slightly later in life?
Not particularly. Alan spoke to the college I was going to go to and they had seen older apprentices going through and it had been very successful. We did chat about the fact that I had been out of education for a while but I convinced him that I was fine with it.
What is the balance like between the academic and the vocational?
There are many ways to approach an apprenticeship, but for me, my first year was off the job training. I produced jobs to a standard with a tutor behind me. This saved me from going into a company straight away and tying up a skilled engineer for long periods of time. I was lucky as there were other adult apprentices and we would all muck in together and help each other out.
A lot of the training centre was practical – though we did some theory obviously, such as electrics. The main practical is done on day release, so I did four days a week at the training centre then I did a technical one day a week at Worcester Technology College where I did underpinning knowledge for practical and things like health and safety.
I was told that if I did well at the training centre and learned quite fast (but steadily) that I would pay less. So I finished early but then the company supported me and suggested that I do extra units in electrical wiring, testing and maintenance. So now I’m a multi-skilled apprentice engineer working in tooling and maintenance.
So you have quite a wide perspective?
How much longer do you have to go to finish your apprenticeship?
Because of the extra units I did in my first year my company were keen to support me in the electrical side as they knew I enjoyed it. I’m now continuing my first mechanical manufacture units into the second year (it’s a two year course) but I’m also doing bolt-on City and Guilds units in Hereford Group Training. That’s in mechatronics, pneumatics and electrical systems. I’ve also taken on another advanced science and maths unit because that will help me further myself to do a HNC (Higher National Certificate). The maths and science units act like a bridging course over a BTEC National.
So you’ll be busy for the next year?
Yes, but because I know it’s what I want to do it’s really enjoyable.
So Worcester Bosch were very supportive?
Yes, they’ve been brilliant. When I started off in the craft side it was very structured. But it developed – because I’ve tried my best – and more doors have opened.
Where to next?
I’m contented with where I am, but I still want to push forward. I really want to learn more. Speaking to my boss, I found out that some of the managers were apprentices so I want to see where it takes me.
My journey into engineering started in a set way, and has moved on from there. I want to see where it takes me.