‘Ask questions, no matter how silly you may feel they are’ – apprenticeship top tips

With National Apprenticeship Week (5-9 March) now in full swing, our senior mechanical engineer, Ian Sullivan, provides his top tips for those looking to get into the industry and what lessons he’s learnt since starting his career in the engineering and construction industry.

After graduating from the University of Birmingham, having studied a degree in Mechanical Engineering, I found it difficult to get into the industry. I managed to eventually secure a position as a mechanical and electrical services surveyor on the London Underground which provided me with some really invaluable experience and I certainly learnt a lot.

I stayed there for three years before moving back to Birmingham and worked consultancy side for 6 years, learning about the mechanical design aspect of building services. I started here at BSD in 2011 and I’m continuing to develop my skills in mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) design but also project and people management.

Apprenticeships are a fantastic route into the industry, they really are crucial to the future of engineering and construction – there’s certainly no better way to learn than in the thick of the industry itself. You can see exactly how the theory behind MEP design relates to the physical implementation of the installation and you can quickly learn what is achievable – and what isn’t.

I think apprenticeships should be high on all companies’ priorities so we can fill the gap being left by those retiring and the shortfall of intake over recent years. It’s a real issue at the moment in our industry and if there was more done to encourage companies to take on apprentices this would significantly improve things.

When starting out in the industry, there are a couple of crucial elements to remember but most importantly I would advise anyone to ask questions, no matter how silly you may feel they are. The only way to learn is to ask and those with more experience are there to teach.
My top tips for apprentices would be:

  • Always be positive – being enthusiastic is incredibly important to employers and shows that you’re keen to learn and engage with the business.
  • Relish the challenges thrown at you – some will be more difficult than others but you’ll always learn something.
  • Interact with customers politely, professionally and in a timely manner – you will develop this skill over time but this is a good place to start.
  • Listen to instructions and take in everything you’re told – it’s incredibly important that the team knows how to produce and present calculations, produce designs and can file documentation correctly so listen to every instruction, no matter how menial it may seem.