Rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty is everything I thought it would be!
Marissa Francis, Apprentice Engineer, ABM UK
I’m 24 years old, I have a four-year-old daughter, and I’m an apprentice engineer. Sometimes people are surprised that a young woman would be so passionate about a job that is traditionally quite male-dominated. But as we celebrate National Apprenticeship Week…I feel like I’m exactly where I want to be!
I’m about to complete a two-year-long course and I’ve been shortlisted for a Young Apprentice of the Year award, but my journey here has been far from smooth. Struggling to find the apprenticeship I’d always hoped for, juggling work and my daughter, and losing my mum have all been big challenges to overcome. But despite all of this, I’m excited for the next chapter.
My interest in the sector started years ago when I did an engineering course as a GSCE option and I absolutely loved it. The advice I got for the next step was to study mechanical engineering at college, because it’s a broad course that means you can get a taste of everything. Again, I just loved everything about it; the creativity of getting things to work and the science behind it all is amazing. People don’t realise how much effort goes into what looks so simple from the outside.
That’s when things got a little more difficult. After college, I wanted to get hands-on experience but there was a lot of pressure to go to Uni and it was difficult to get advice and information on apprenticeships. No one seemed to know where to start! So, I applied to university and was accepted to study electronics. I finished the first year, but it just felt wrong to be sitting in a lecture hall when I really wanted to be learning on the job. So I took a risk and left.
I signed up to Women in Engineering at a careers event and the next day I had an email saying there was an apprenticeship available at Westway Services (now part of ABM UK). And that was that! I started as an apprentice engineer soon after, and it was exactly what I wanted.
I hope that things have changed since I was looking, but finding an apprenticeship was a real challenge; and I don’t think it should be. Unless you have people around you in the industry it’s hard to know who to go to and how to get into it! I think it used to be the case that parents passed down their trade to their children, but I didn’t know where to start.
Now that I have what I wanted, and I’m nearing the end of my apprenticeship, I can reflect on the other big challenges; making sure I can give as much as possible to my course and looking after my daughter, who is four. Day to day it’s a bit of a juggle, but when she’s sick or something, it can be difficult! My mum used to help me a lot, but she recently passed away so things have got a little bit more difficult. I’m lucky that ABM UK is supportive, and it makes me even more determined to finish my course in May and start my career!
If I look back, I’d say my biggest achievement is that I’ve managed to get to the end! People weren’t sure I’d be able to handle everything because I have a child and I left Uni, but I’ve done it! I wanted to learn everyday and leave my apprenticeship having done my best.
Being shortlisted for an Apprentice of the Year award this year has made me feel proud, and shows how hard I’ve worked and how much the business has supported me. I hope I win!
When it comes to ‘what’s next’, I just want my future self to learn as much as possible, gather as much experience as I can and put myself in different scenarios. I really just want to keep building on myself.
For anyone considering an apprenticeship, I’d say the qualities you need are to be open minded and be able to listen. You also need to be confident enough to ask questions and find out why people are doing certain things, so you understand the process from end to end. I also think that you need to be very motivated and like the fact that things change quickly and you have to adapt!
When it comes to practical jobs like engineering, I think you need hands-on, onsite experience and skill. There is nothing better than learning on the job; you learn so much more quickly. I found it really hard sitting in a lecture hall trying to imagine the environment I might be in.
You are also more supported as an apprentice compared to traditional routes. You form close relationships with the people you work with and they’re there for you, whatever you need. Rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty is everything I thought it would be! Watch this space.