From birthday cards to electric buses via super formula: The journey from apprentice to engineer
In my ‘How did I become an engineer?’ blog I described my journey into engineering via the ‘graduate route’ and mentioned that there are other paths into the profession. In this blog I’d like to describe the apprenticeship route taken by one of my colleagues, Paul Ingle, a Principal Engineer in our Software and Controls team.
Let me take you back to the late 1970s. Flared trousers started to go out of fashion, Margaret Thatcher had become prime minister of the UK, the internet was still in its early research and development phase (Google hadn’t been invented yet) and both the second oil crisis and Queen rocked the world (albeit in different ways).
On the outskirts of Leeds, a young Paul was fascinated by how different things around the house worked, particularly electronic components. Frequently taking things apart and putting them back together again, Paul’s curiosity helped develop a lot of useful skills, but it wasn’t always successful…
On a caravan holiday, an attempt to re-wire a digital clock from a wall plug to the 12V supply of the caravan resulted in the said clock transforming into a slightly less useful paperweight! The way Paul managed to convince his folks the clock broke all on its own remains one of the best cover ups since the Roswell UFO incident.
After leaving school with seven O-levels (now GCSEs) Paul joined Dean Smith & Grace, a manufacturer of lathes, as an apprentice electrical technician engineer. At school, Paul felt he learned best using a hands-on approach so felt an apprenticeship was the best way to learn the skills needed to become an engineer. During Paul’s apprenticeship, he moved around all areas of the business which helped Paul to understand what the entire business did, rather than one specific department.
Broadening his skills, trying new things, appreciating other teams’ requirements and using varied experiences to come up with new solutions to problems, were just some of the experiences Paul got out of his apprenticeship.
Another benefit was being able to practically apply the theory he had learned in the classroom, enabling him to get hands-on experience from day one. This meant by the end of the apprenticeship Paul felt he was a more grounded engineer and had a deeper understanding of what he’d learnt and how it is applied in the real world.
In the summer of 1991, after four years and having achieved an ONC and then an HNC in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at college, Paul decided to move on to Kingsley Cards in Skipton, North Yorkshire.
Kingsley Cards was a greetings card manufacturer and one of Paul’s duties was to re-engineer a machine which stuck greetings card insert pages into the cards before being shipped to shops around the UK. Previously the machine had cams which moved the cards into position, but this wasn’t reliable, so Paul came up with an innovative dual motor system which provided a much smoother operation.
I should add here that he did this while studying part-time for a BSc in Electronic Control Systems Engineering at Leeds Metropolitan University (now Leeds Beckett University) at which Paul’s improved card machine became the subject of his thesis. During eight years with the company, Paul rose from Maintenance Electronics/Development Engineer to Engineering Manager. He’s a hard worker is our Paul!