A former apprentice himself, Nigel joined the MTC in January 2020 after a very varied engineering career that took him all over the world! We chatted to him about his journey and experiences so far, how his daughter inspired him to become a trainer, and why he believes apprenticeships are the best start to an engineering career.
What was your prior industrial experience before you joined MTC Training?
When I left school, I did an apprenticeship very similar to the one we offer here at the MTC! My first job was with a pneumatics manufacturer where I worked on a lathe in a factory, before I decided that I wanted to specialise in electronics. I went back to college to get my basic and practical electrical qualifications, then my ONC and HNC, working part time fixing equipment at a hotel to fund my training.
After I qualified, I tested, repaired and built circuit boards for an electronics company who produced medical devices. I then worked for various manufacturers and contractors, primarily in the automotive sector. This included working for Brose Ltd in Exhall, where I carried out environmental tests on car window regulators; project engineer at Alpine Electronics, where I was design liaison between Alpine and Jaguar for their in car audio systems; then I moved to a start-up, helping design and develop a brand new product (a flat, flexible speaker) at Warwick University.
After this I spent eight years as a contractor at Aston Martin in the electrical department, planning out the testing regime and schedule for new car designs before they entered mass production. I’m a good example of how varied an engineering career can be!
What would you say are your career highlights?
I loved seeing the whole project through at Aston Martin, being involved right from early stages of car concept and design all the way through to seeing it on road and on TV, and hearing people talking about it. Working on project that everyone has heard about and is excited about was a really cool experience, and I also worked with some brilliant and very clever people. I learned a lot!
Why did you decide to become a trainer?
I thought about training for a while before I did it. I’ve been involved in education for a long time, having been a school governor for 14 years. The deciding factor was when my daughter was doing her engineering apprenticeship a few years ago in Birmingham and didn’t have a great learning experience – the trainers were changing all the time, she often felt like she had nothing to do, and would come home and tell me that she hadn’t learnt anything new that day. I thought, ‘I can do better than that!’ and so I started doing some supply teaching, before I became a Design and Technology teacher, and in January 2020 I joined the MTC.
I’m a big believer in apprenticeships – they give you such strong hands on skills and all round engineering knowledge, plus you’re learning a real work path, gaining the specific skills that you’re going need to work effectively in your job role. As someone who’s spent a lot of time in industry, I know that you can see immediately who has done an apprenticeship versus who has taken a more traditional university route.
What do you enjoy most about your training role?
Talking to the apprentices, definitely. I really enjoy seeing them grow as professionals, and gain confidence in themselves and their skills. For example, in one of my subjects, Electronics, apprentices often arrive not knowing anything about it or the practical side of it, often they’re a bit nervous about it, and when they finish their training with me, they leave being able to do all sorts of stuff, with fantastic practical skills and ready for work.
How is the AMTC / OAS different from other training centres?
I think we expect more – we demand a higher quality, always strive to reach high standards and we’re always looking for ways to improve. And that also means that we help our learners to achieve more. Unlike my daughters’ experience, the trainers at ATMC are all very committed to teaching and sharing our skills – we encourage the apprentices to push themselves, challenge themselves and to make sure they really fulfil their potential. It’s also a fantastic place to work and train, a really modern building with everything you could need to succeed.
What makes a good apprentice?
You need to be keen to learn something new, curious about how things work, and interested in both practical and theoretical skills and knowledge. It doesn’t matter what level you come in at, it’s what you can do when you leave us and what you can achieve with your new skills that’s important. I’d add that being organised and methodical is just as important as having great engineering skills.
It’s also useful to be flexible and adaptable, and to be open to lots of different kinds of engineering. It’s such a varied industry, and there are so many different areas and opportunities to explore – that’s how you’ll get the most out of a career in engineering.
What advice would you give to prospective apprentices?
Don’t make the mistake of think of engineering just as a dirty workshop or working with tools. I’ve worked on machines in workshops, but I’ve also tested cars at over 100mph round a race track, driven around the USA radio testing, and travelled all over the world. There’s just such a huge range of opportunities out there for an engineering apprentice!