Drew works as a powertrains and engines technician in Loughborough University's School of Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering. Here he talks about taking the apprenticeship route and the buzz he gets from engineering.
Were you always interested in engineering when you were growing up?
Engineering has always been in the family and some of my earliest memories are being underneath classic cars with my father, probably getting in the way more than anything.
He and his friends were always more than happy to let me ‘help’ and show me how things work. I actually owned my first car at age 12 years which my father bought home for me. It was an extremely rusty and abandoned 1934 Ford Model Y. I stripped down and rebuilt it into a replica of a 1923 Ford Model T. From then on I was hooked.
Fast forward several years when I finished school and was deciding what career I wanted to pursue, being involved in engineering was always my first choice.
What made you take the apprenticeship route?
The apprenticeship route was undoubtedly the best option for me as I was able to gain knowledge relevant to my career every day and learn the job via a hands-on approach.
I was trained by highly experienced technicians that handed down their lifetimes’ worth of knowledge on a one-to-one basis. I was able to back that practical knowledge up with a theoretical appreciation of engineering acquired from my day a week at college.
This also ensured I had a wider appreciation of the subject.
Earning a wage while I was training was also a massive help. Gaining the Apprentice of the Year award was a really nice way to end my apprenticeship and receiving the welding helmet as a prize was a brilliant as I needed one but didn’t have the spare money!
What does your current job entail?
My main duties are machining and fabricating one-off components and assemblies to use in the engine test cells for both research and teaching from a drawing or initial idea through to the finished item. It gives me a real buzz to see the parts in operation.
I also supervise the work in the labs that gives students practical experience of using engine dynamometers and appreciating how small differences seriously affect engine efficiency and operation. In addition, I support the researchers on their projects. I really enjoy liaising with the researchers and students and agreeing on the best solution to a problem.
One of the current projects I’m working on involves testing and improving a totally new type of rotary engine that hopefully will be the next big step forward in hybrid vehicles.
What are the best parts of the job?
That’s a very hard question as I thoroughly enjoy pretty much all aspects of my job. But if I had to choose, the biggest bonus of working in this industry is that I can use the knowledge and techniques gained and apply it to my hobby and passion of hot rod cars. It helps me improve the quality of my cars and, likewise, I can apply knowledge that I gain from my hobby to my work.
What advice do you have for others who'd like to get into aeronautical/automotive engineering?
I strongly recommend they are persistent in finding the right apprenticeship for them as it won’t just fall into their lap. It’s also hugely important to go for a job that they feel passionately about as being happy and interested in your work makes for a more enjoyable time.
Also, make sure that they learn the background and history of the company they want to work for and understand the type of work it does and the goals that it hopes to achieve in the future. I am a big believer in having an appreciation of history: to know where you’re going, you’ve got to know where you’ve been.
What are your main career ambitions?
I want to continue gaining knowledge in how to get the most out of internal combustion engines with regards to efficiency and long-term sustainability, as well as practice and improve my manufacturing techniques in machining, welding and fabricating.
Hopefully, over the years, the knowledge I acquire and apply to research projects will help towards a more efficient future. It really helps to be in a place surrounded by people with knowledge, patience and willingness to help. I hope I can pass the knowledge down to the next generation of budding engineers that have the same aspirations. I do plan on furthering my qualifications if possible.
The next step for me would be to enroll on a HNC course and then HND in mechanical engineering in the near future if funds allow.
How do you like to relax?
My big passion in life is my old cars and I own two at the moment: a Ford Model A replica based on a 1930s Austin 12 that I use daily and my project Hillman Hunter with Rover V8 engine and Jaguar rear suspension.
Needless to say I spend most of my spare time in the garage building and improving my cars. I also attend hot rod-related events - either watching drag racing or taking part in the cruises – and I love to look at the amazing machinery for inspiration and socialise with like-minded people. I’m sure it doesn’t sound very relaxing but it makes me a very happy man!