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Apprentice Case Study: Harrison Shirley

After learning about the OAS programme through a work experience placement at UKAEA, Harrison knew immediately that our apprenticeship route would help him to get the career acceleration he was looking for. He was one of the youngest apprentices in OAS’s cohort of 2019, but immediately stood out on account of his infectious ambition, passion and enthusiasm.

We talked to him about his love of engineering, what he values most about his apprenticeship so far, and meeting Ross Brawn.

Why did you choose an apprenticeship?

Career advice at my school suggested there was only one option for me after GCSE’s – go to sixth form to take my A levels, then off to university. Then I had an opportunity to do some work experience at two different organisations. I worked within the maintenance team at Oxford Brookes University, and for UKAEA. In each case, the experience focused on electrical engineering, and I loved it so much that a week didn’t seem long enough. Both teams I was working with talked to me about how an apprenticeship would enable me to gain recognised qualifications, but that I could also work and gain real, hands-on experience in industry at the same time.

I knew immediately that this was the right career path for me, and so I applied to become an apprentice. I was very lucky to be offered a couple of different apprenticeships. I chose to work for UKAEA because I had such a positive time with them during my work experience placement, I also knew that working for them would give me lots of opportunities in the future. And also because I knew that at OAS I would get to meet Formula One’s managing director, motor sports and technical director Ross Brawn, at OAS, who is a huge hero of mine!

Did you have a particular career in mind when you made your decision? If so, what and why?

Yes, I had two different career paths in mind: trackside electrical engineering with a Formula 1 race team, or remote control systems with Virtual Reality (VR) and working with robotics, which is what I’m working towards with UKAEA.

Were you always interested in a career in engineering?

Engineering has always been something I’ve loved because my grandfather and great grandfather were both engineers. Sadly, I never got to meet them, so I felt engineering brought me closer to who they were. Also, as a huge fan of F1, I have grown a deep passion for motorsports, which also led me down an engineering path.

I did also consider becoming a quantum physicist, but I was put off by the debt I’d accumulate whilst I spent years studying, with no guaranteed job at the end. That’s another great thing about apprenticeships – after you’ve completed your programme and worked for your employer for four years, you’re likely to get a job at the end.

Did you have an idea of what an apprenticeship would involve before you came to OAS?

Yes, but I didn’t have a very clear idea of what the work would look like. It’s actually made my experience even more exciting, because every day was an opportunity to learn something new.

What have you learnt at OAS?

Where do I begin?! Firstly, you have the theoretical side, which covers so many subjects: hand fitting, mechanical assembly and maintenance, hydraulic and pneumatics within fluid power, and so many others. All these subjects brought some new challenges, and they were all very interesting. Then you have your level 3 units, which included maths, mechanical principles, materials and more. Finally, there’s the more personal side of things, which would include working in a team, personal motivation, public speaking, and time management. I’ve learnt a lot!

What sort of projects have you been/are you working on?

I’ve got a few different projects on the go at the moment. I am building a Stephenson’s rocket model my grandfather and great grandfather built. I am using the same plans they created and followed to make their own rocket 53 years ago! I am also supporting the inclusion and diversity work that’s just started at OAS, and I have been working on a project to support my application after I was nominated for the BAME Apprenticeship Awards.

Have there been any memorable projects/experiences from the training you’ve received at OAS?

There have been so many memorable moments at OAS! Meeting Ross Brawn of course, getting to meet lots of new people on my first day, some of whom I have become really good friends with. The day my level 2 portfolio was completed (I was so happy it was a massive weight off my shoulders) and the feeling of passing all of my maths exams!

How has the apprenticeship programme been beneficial to you and your career?

My apprenticeship at OAS has helped me massively. It’s introduced me to new ideas, new people and new programmes that can all help me to improve my prospects and accelerate my career. It has also introduced me to the BAME awards, and I’ve had the opportunity to undertake loads of additional learning and online courses to improve my understanding on a whole host of different subjects. My apprenticeship helped me to open doors that I didn’t even know were there.

What would you say are the benefits and what advice would you offer to those looking to apply to the OAS apprenticeship programme?

The benefits are countless, from meeting new people to working with loads of top spec equipment and learning so many new skills, working within teams, and talking to people from all walks of life at the OAS open evenings.

I’ve got two pieces of advice that have served me really well so far. One, always carry a note pad with you. And two, work hard and you’ll be rewarded (trust me on that) and don’t put the important things off or leave them to the last minute.

What has been your biggest achievement so far during your apprenticeship?

It was an honour to be nominated for the BAME Apprenticeship Awards, and then being a finalist was the icing on the cake. I’m really proud to have been the OAS Apprentice of the Month several times, and I was also one of the first learners in my cohort to finish our first year programme. And did I mention that I met my hero, Ross Brawn..?

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I really love my job! I enjoy every part of it, even the health and safety stuff. However, if I had to pick a singular aspect, I would have to say that it’s the opportunities my work gives me. I say this because every opportunity that I get, from practical work to visiting different schools to talk about apprenticeships to young people, to showing employers around the centre on tours, it’s all so much fun.

Would you recommend apprenticeships to others?

One hundred thousand percent! For me, apprenticeships are the best option to kick-start your career. Your training and experience helps you to exceed expectations, and can open so many different career opportunities and pathways as you explore your subject. Plus you’re very likely to have a good job at the end of your training, and you get paid to learn in the meantime! What’s not to love? I’m not saying that it’s not hard work, because it is – but for me it’s easier to work hard and do your best when what you’re doing is what you love!