Bailey Mercer, aged 19, from Redcar talks to us about her experience as an apprentice in a male-dominated industry and why she would encourage others to apply.
Can you tell us a bit about your apprenticeship?
“I am an Instrumentation and Control Apprentice with TTE Technical Training Group at Sembcorp and am currently working towards my HNC qualification with Redcar & Cleveland College.”
For those who don’t know, what is Instrumentation and Control?
“It involves calibrations of measuring equipment; so the main things I look at are: level, pressure, temperature and flow, and there are instruments to measure each of these. We check that they are reading properly, so for example, if your level went too high, it could flood your tank and leave a working plant with a lot of problems. It’s really important to make sure your level sensor reading is accurate.”
How did you find your apprenticeship?
“My dad is a process operator at Sembcorp, so I was already aware of the business, and I did my work experience there. After leaving school, I went on to TTE in Teesside to complete my BTEC qualification and was finding it difficult to find work experience, particularly with the steelwork closing, so my dad suggested that I return to Sembcorp for additional work experience.
“Sembcorp then approached me to say they were looking for apprentices and were really keen for me to apply. I went along to the interviews and was lucky enough to be selected, and I’m now six months into my apprenticeship and working towards my HNC.”
Why does an apprenticeship work for you?
“It’s an opportunity to get paid whilst also getting experience, and most people my age don’t earn a wage whilst learning too. Some employers, like mine, will even pay for additional courses to help you progress too.
“It’s good to earn while you learn, especially when you’re gaining new skills in the workplace. You’re limited to what you can do in a classroom environment, so being out and doing the job is a totally different feeling.
“It’s a lot more hands on during an apprenticeship – you get real experience and I think it suits some people who don’t really enjoy sitting in a classroom. If you’re not enjoying a course, it’s easy to get distracted but when you’re at work you have a reason to push on even if it’s not your favourite part of the job.”
Can you describe your experience as an apprentice so far?
“It’s a great experience and it’s been a really good way to meet new people, of all ages. I’ve gone straight into the workplace so there are people of all ages and experiences.
“I’m working with people who are my dad’s age and older so it is strange, but we get the opportunity to learn from them.”
Is there a moment during your apprenticeship that has stood out for you?
“At work we’re setting up a test rig which is a replica of our plant at Wilton and it’s designed specifically for the apprentices to practice. We were given the opportunity to get involved in the design and had to submit a design for a unistrut frame and show it to our mentor on site. It was really good to have been involved in something like that and I was proud that the mentor was impressed with my design.
“It’s also good knowing that we will be helping future apprentices at Sembcorp.”
What does a typical day look like for you?
“We do a lot of regular testing on various pieces of equipment, such as trips and alarm tests. For example, we have to make sure that if the water ever rose too high, the level sensor alarm would go off.
“We get reports sent through after our testing and for every job, we have to complete a take two risk assessment. Calibrations are also quite a common task but it’s quite varied really.”
What attracted you to the industry?
“I actually came to Redcar & Cleveland College when I was in Year 10 for a taster day and because the sessions were quite full, I had the option of beauty or pneumatics. I knew I didn’t want to do beauty so I chose pneumatics even though I didn’t have a clue what it was.
“I went in not really knowing what to expect and really enjoyed it, so then I came away thinking that it might be something I want to do in the future. I spoke to my parents and they were really supportive, so that’s what led me to where I am today.
“It’s also not really a career that girls tend to go for, so I thought why not?
“When I first told my granddad he didn’t really understand why I’d decided to choose this, but now he asks all the time if I’m enjoying it.”
What’s it like being in a male-dominated industry?
“When I first joined, I was a bit worried about it because I thought I’d struggle to make friends, but I had no problem really. I got on well with everyone on my course and it’s the same at work.
“I think there are people who have been in the industry for a while who sometimes don’t think women can progress in this environment, but most people are accepting and it’s becoming more and more normal for females to go into these sort of industries.”
Would you encourage others to apply to work in this sort of industry?
“It’s a really rewarding job and really practical; so if something isn’t working, you’re the one who identifies the issue and fixes it. It gives you a sense of pride.”
Do you have any career goals?
“I’d be happy to be kept on at the end of my apprenticeship at Sembcorp as a technician, and then see where the future takes me.
“There are quite a few different career options available to me once I have my qualification, which is a real bonus. I could go on to become a supervisor, an engineer, look into health and safety or planning – it’s given me a really good start for my future career.”
What do you think of Redcar & Cleveland College?
“In terms of my course, it’s great. I can apply a lot of my learning to my experience in the workplace which is really beneficial.
“All the facilities are really good and I know there’s support available when I needed it.”
Would you encourage other people to consider an apprenticeship?
“Definitely. If you can find an apprenticeship that’s the right one for you, then I’d definitely recommend it. It’s motivating to know that you’re getting paid whilst also learning, and you still have the opportunity to meet people and make new friends.”
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