Mark's story: an electrical apprenticeship and beyond
Mark Lee was awarded Electrical Apprentice of the Year 2016 by electrical contracting regulatory body NICEIC and ELECSA. We spoke to him about his experience as an apprentice electrician studying for a NVQ Level 3 at Cambridge Regional College and discuss his future plans.
Direct Line for Business: Why did you choose the electrical industry?
Mark Lee: I wanted to have the freedom of going to different locations in my job, to keep my interest going. I love not knowing what I'm going to turn up to and being able to adapt to my environment.
Before starting my apprenticeship I worked in a supermarket for a long time and the days just dragged. I was also a retained firefighter and although I enjoyed it, I saw better opportunities for my future if I chose the apprenticeship.
It's really diverse and there are loads of different things to learn and do. I work for Saffron Services as an apprentice electrician. It's a new job for me (in the third year of my apprenticeship) and they're a plumbing, heating and gas company. They've taken me on as a future prospect to open an electrical arm.
My new job has given me a particular insight into how heating controls work and the industry itself is ever changing with new things to learn.
Direct Line for Business: Why did you choose this apprenticeship and what other options were you considering when you made your decision?
ML: I applied for both carpentry and electrical but electrical was my first choice, so I was really happy when I was given the opportunity to do it. Putting myself out there to apply for a job was daunting but I was snapped up pretty quickly and there's loads of opportunity out there. People are willing to give apprentices a chance and they have the opportunity to train and mould them to complete jobs to their preferred standard.
In my last job we did things differently so I'm learning new techniques in addition to having the chance to use my initiative to do things the way I want to. The different ways of doing things is what attracts me to this career the most.
Direct Line for Business: Tell us about some of the practical skills/techniques you're learning?
ML: I had no experience of electrics when I started my apprenticeship so I've learned everything from scratch. But the construction industry gives you the opportunity to learn so much more than what you're taught to complete your job. You'll learn the differences in how things are done in domestic and commercial builds, and pick up knowledge from working alongside other tradesmen with different jobs. You grow an enthusiasm for working to complete a project for someone, which is really satisfying.
Direct Line for Business: Tell us about some of the social skills that you're learning?
ML: Timekeeping was initially a big problem for me in my first job. I worked in London and as I don't live there, very occasionally I was up at 4am to drive in! Sometimes I didn't get home until 8pm but it was fine as I enjoyed the work. Now I work closer to home and my time keeping, along with my work/life balance, has really improved.
That was only temporary and I was fine with it as I enjoyed the work, but now I work closer to home and my timekeeping, along with my work/life balance, has really improved.
It might not be something everyone considers when they start working, but if you're a contractor, it's really important to consider the location of where you work and how that impacts your life outside of work.
Direct Line for Business: Tell us about your award win and the competition process:
ML: I won the first 'NICEIC and ELECSA Apprentice of the Year' competition. My college tutor encouraged us all to apply and the first stage was an online questionnaire (around 40 questions in 40 minutes). I scored in the top 20%, which got me through to the next stage.
Stage two was a 90-minute practical test and interview. Mine was conducted at the NICEIC headquarters (one of seven locations where stage two was held) and I was ultimately chosen as one of eight finalists.
For the final stage, I went to the competition sponsor Scolmore's headquarters in Tamworth, Staffordshire. It was a day of points-based challenges, followed by an awards ceremony at The Belfry Hotel. It was an all-round great time because we got to meet and chat between challenges so we became a nice tight-knit group by the end of it!
I entered the competition on a whim and never thought I'd win. It was a pleasant surprise to progress to each stage and I couldn't believe it when my name was called out at the end!
Direct Line for Business: What do you hope to do once you finish your apprenticeship?
ML: My brother and one of his friends run the company that I'm currently working for. They've taken me on in the hope that I can eventually lead their electrical arm. I am their first apprentice and they took me on as they can see my future potential and that I'm keen to learn.
Direct Line for Business: Why would you recommend an apprenticeship to a school leaver or someone who is considering a career/education change?
ML: It's just so diverse, so different and with so much opportunity for progression. In a relatively short time, I went from earning £500 to £1200 per month and it's rare to see that sort of progression in an entry-level role at a large company or corporation.
There's a wide range of skills involved and you learn so much. I know there are different procedures involved in other jobs but when you're there to learn it changes day by day and you meet so many people. Because of that, you can gain much better customer service and general people skills than you could in many other jobs. It's obviously encouraged but you also genuinely want to help the customers.
If you start young, you can be a qualified electrician by 19/20, and a UK electrical qualification has a lot of credibility and versatility around the world, which gives you so many more options for your future.
Read more Tools of the Trade
Experiences of young workers in the construction industry:
Lecturers take on apprenticeships: