Future energy – the Apprentice

Apprentice Engineer Lauryn Bailey talks about working at Fundamentals, her passion for the industry and the need for more women to join the sector.

With a Father as a mechanic and an Uncle as an electrician, there was a reasonable chance that Lauryn Bailey might be inspired to seek a career in some form of electrical engineering.  According to Fundamentals’ latest Apprentice, Lauryn Bailey: “There were lots of people that came to my primary school who talked about what they did for a living and when I went to creative fairs and took part in the activities, they were all technical”.

After starting at Wroughton secondary school, she quickly moved to Universal Technical College, Swindon when she realised she wanted to focus on engineering options. “It’s not like a normal college. It runs on business hours, we had to wear business attire and its huge workshop allows manufacturing and a proper taste for different elements of industry.  Many schools don't seem to offer this,” explains Lauryn. 

Her interests quickly focused on electronics from a technical design and architectural perspective and she chose a more practical-based BTech over exam-based A-levels.  “For anyone wanting to go into engineering, my advice would be to take a BTech,” Lauryn states.  “It provides much better practical knowledge and certainly helped in my interview at Fundamentals because I was more relaxed and the soldering test was relatively easy because I’d been there and done that.”

At the end of college, having gained distinction stars in all three of her BTech subjects, Lauryn was faced with another choice: university or apprenticeship? “I looked at University courses, but I learn much more when I’m doing practical stuff. Universities deliver the information I would need, but do they actually provide the practical awareness?  The majority of my peers went into apprenticeships and the college had partners in industry.”

"The education system isn't doing enough." 

Fundamentals Director, Jon Hiscock 

Now Lauryn’s overall boss, Fundamentals Managing Director Jon Hiscock agrees with her choice: “For the technical industry, the education system isn’t doing enough – particularly universities. When I was undertaking a lot of interviews for new Fundamentals staff, I was staggered at the poor level of basic maths or maths from graduates. That's very worrying to me. It could be that all the good graduates are locked away in good jobs, but with the push towards the Blair target of 50% at university, I believe it has dumbed-down Higher Education and the perception that a practical or apprenticeship route is ‘lower-class’ than going to university is dangerous.”

At Fundamentals, the structure of an apprenticeship is usually six months spent in different departments before the Apprentice decides on their preferred area.  Every apprenticeship must also include an academic element. For Lauryn this means completing a Level 3 NVQ in Engineering and Technology.  She completes her NVQ around her day job, with an assessor visiting Fundamentals every quarter.

So, what elements of the work is Lauryn enjoying? “Everything!” she says enthusiastically. “The Operations Department where I’m currently working, covers every element of the business, including Health and Safety, IT and Production.  It’s really great when you can design something one day and change it the next and, while it can be completely different in design, it still completes the same task”.

Delivering WOW

Lauryn has also quickly become the ‘go-to’ IT support specialist for newcomers to the organisation, recently delivering a presentation on Fundamentals’ new intranet to sixty colleagues. She also works hands-on with the team fulfilling the contract with Electricity North West (ENW) to build wall boxes, populate them with components, laser engrave the labels and so on.

Now aged 19 Lauryn just missed the current drive by politicians and the academic world to encourage more women into engineering-based careers.  “I was already motivated to go into this career”, says Lauryn. “But there is definitely a lot more visibility of women in engineering now.  While I was at college there was International Women's Engineering Day and I visited microchip company, Dialogue.  They told me that more women were coming into the industry and their business.”

She adds: “At one time I was the only woman in my class, that’s changed and female engineering has gone up in college from six percent to ten percent in just four years.  But some women are potentially put-off by such a perceived male-dominated industry.  Having access to engineers at school and having companies come into the schools made a big difference. The move to the engineering college in Swindon gave us access to Dyson, Johnson Matthey and there are many leading female engineers coming in to visit now.”

Again, Jon Hiscock is quick to reinforce Lauryn’s experience, but with three daughters and a son of his own, he recognises there is still some way to go.  “Bringing women into the sector, particularly electrical engineering, is an issue. It starts at education route level, when career choices are made, but I’m not totally sure why. Fundamentals has a good balance of men and women in the business. Women bring a considered approach to organisation and systemisation within the business and that makes the organisation a better place to work.”

He highlights Oxbridge Physics graduate and Fundamentals Commercial Manager, Mary Martin. “I want to see more than just organisational expertise and Mary is the kind of person that is working hard to promote women in the technical workplace. It definitely needs to start at schools and we need more inspirational teachers – both women and men – in technical subjects.”

Apprenticeship Advice

So, what advice does Lauryn offer for other would-be Apprentice Engineers? “Pick something you really enjoy, because if you enjoy it, you’ll stick with it and be passionate about it. Make sure you have some form of qualification that reflects your passion – the STEM subjects are really important, including Physics.  Then target companies that work in areas as close to your interest as possible.  An apprenticeship is never going to be easy, but that’s a good thing. You’ll never get bored and you’ll always have questions to ask which can only be positive.

Although there are no guarantees of a job at the end, with the right attitude apprentices will certainly find a willing champion in Jon Hiscock: “All the apprentices we have had have all been amazing. They are great people, with the right attitude and have learnt skills really quickly. My only wish is to see the colleges work harder to support them, with improved coursework, guidance and mentors, so that our apprentices feel better looked-after from an academic perspective.”

As for Lauryn, she sees Fundamentals playing a long-term role in her future. “I want to further myself at Fundamentals and maybe get myself into a management role. I still don't know what I want to specialise in, although I love the field, but there are lots of people here that I can and do talk to easily.  After leaving college, I'd like to further my education as well - something in electrical engineering probably.  After joining college and working at Fundamentals you realise just how many different jobs are open to you.  It’s such a big field with so much to learn over the months and years that there’s no way you could learn it all. But I do know there will always be a need for engineers!”