Chris shares his experiences of working in a plant environment, how he loves the variety and challenges it offers and why he think an apprenticeship is one of the best career options available.
What’s your name?
Where do you work?
Vauxhall Motors Ltd, Ellesmere Port
What's your job title?
Multi-skilled maintenance engineer
How long have you been doing that?
How did you get there?
I completed an apprenticeship with the company in 2011 through West Cheshire College and after my training I succeeded in gaining a full time position. I am a strong believer that engineering related jobs benefit more from the skill set gained from an apprenticeship. So keep an eye on websites such as www.apprenticeships.org.uk or local college websites such as www.west-cheshire.ac.uk if you think an engineering role is right for you!
What's the work and day-to-day experience like?
In a nutshell, engineers in teams of around four to six are assigned a section of the plant to maintain. The team is then responsible for maintaining this area, and carrying out improvement projects.
This involves both mechanical and electrical tasks, from stripping down gear boxes to installing a whole cell of robots - and everything in between! In my job there are never two days the same and each day offers something new to learn.
What's the best thing about the job?
The workforce. I was totally surprised at the kindness and friendliness of all of the workers in the plant. People you have never seen or met before will say hello when passing by, and when you have an atmosphere like that it really lifts your spirit. It is a really happy workplace. And it's not just at Vauxhall, I have visited a few industrial plants and most have a similar atmosphere.
And the worst?
Working shifts. Yes it is the nature of the job, and yes you do get used to it eventually. But working through the night and sleeping through the day does take some getting used to at first. But that's what you get paid shift premium for.
What stand-out things have you got involved in?
Our team is currently working on the installation of a robot training cell, which will be used to train new engineers how to programme a robot. This involves installing two Fanuc robots, and repairing one existing robot that is currently in bits. So re-wiring, new axis motors, new tooling, and an integrated sealant system are all on the cards.
On top of this we will have to ensure the safety of the cell by hardwiring safety interlocks, and then, if all of this wasn't enough, set up a network of communications so that the cell operates and communicates with the rest of the plant. It is one mammoth task, but one that is thoroughly enjoyable.
How would you describe life as a working engineer?
You certainly look at things in life differently. After a few years on the job you will look around your home and think “I know how that works” or “I could fix that”, or even “I know how I could improve that”. It is something special to be able to bring your skill set outside of work and benefit your everyday life.
What did you expect when you started work? Did anything surprise you?
I was 16 when I started at Vauxhall as I used to combine my studies at the college with working in Vauxhall and the thought of working with men twice or three times my age was daunting to say the least! It was surprising to find that behind the wrinkles of most workers was a person just as immature as you, sharing very similar interests.
Work wise, I was surprised at the severity of some tasks, but you have to remember, you are part of a team and there are always people there that are willing help.
I hear you're also studying towards a BSc - how do you manage work and study?
Well, I wouldn't recommend this for the faint hearted, but for those who are easily motivated and aren't afraid to work an extra couple of hours a night, it is an exceptional way to obtain a degree.
Many employers fund university studies, so for the academics out there who plan on going to university, an apprenticeship is certainly a route worth considering. You can gain knowledge and experience on the job, gain Level 5 qualifications (keeping in mind A levels are Level 3) and there's a chance you will get your university degree funded. I got paid throughout college and at university, which is an added bonus.
Is there any advice you’d like to pass on to those about to enter an engineering workplace?
Be friendly and never be afraid to ask questions. If you are friendly to other people, you will find that most of them will go out of their way to help you. Most of all, enjoy yourself, the world of work isn't as cruel as you may think.
What do you think you'll do next?
I will stay exactly where I am for the foreseeable future, continuing to develop my subject knowledge and experience. It is a role that I thoroughly enjoy. Waking up in the morning and (almost) looking forward to going into work is a feeling worth cherishing.