Name: Rhys Pugh
School: Larkmead School, Abingdon
Job title: Engineering Apprentice
Company: Oxford Packaging Solutions
Rhys had already experienced apprenticeships before he decided to change sectors and pursue a career in engineering. Now midway through the first year of his programme, we caught up with him to hear about what’s different about OAS compared to his previous training, his future career plans now he’s found a sector he enjoys, and the first time he used a plasma cutter.
Why did you choose an apprenticeship?
After completing my Level 2 apprenticeship with the NHS, I had started a Level 4 apprenticeship in software development, but the company collapsed during COVID. At the same time, I realised that I couldn’t see myself sitting behind a desk for the rest of my career, so I worked in a few different jobs before understanding that engineering was what I really enjoyed. I already knew the benefits an apprenticeship could offer, and when I was exploring places to study, OAS seemed have the best facilities (much better than the college I had studied at previously). I signed up with OAS and successfully applied for the role with Oxford Packaging Solutions (OPS), and I haven’t looked back – I’m really enjoying it!
Did you have a particular career in mind when you made your decision?
I’m mainly interested in electronics, but I also like mechanical engineering. The way things are these days, mechanical and electrical engineering are going hand in hand, so I’m looking to really broaden and expand my knowledge here.
Have you always been interested in engineering?
Well, I used to break my little brother’s toys to see how they worked… My mum wasn’t happy! I knew from a young age that I enjoyed working with my hands. I did a little bit of woodwork with my grandad, and I’d ask for Lego every Christmas. I chose systems and controls at GSCE, but A levels didn’t suit me at all and I left after a month. Don’t get me wrong, the theory is interesting, but I struggled to learn it without applying it – I wanted to see how it worked, and how it was implemented. A levels couldn’t provide that, but my apprenticeship does.
Did you have an idea of what an apprenticeship would involve before you started?
Yes, having already done a Level 2 I knew what to expect, although my experience here is very different from the college I was attending before. College was much more theory focused, whereas here there’s a lot more practical learning, which is so important because I’m learning that there’s so much stuff you need to take into account when you’re milling, for example! Some of the other apprentices have been working in engineering since they were much younger, but for me a lot of it is brand new.
What are the most memorable projects you’ve worked on in your apprenticeship so far?
There are two apprentices at OPS, and we went back to site for a couple of weeks in between units. OPS had just won a new contract with an existing customer and the product spec had been revised, so we were asked to change a piece of kit to be suitable for the new process.
We were given a stainless steel container that holds closures for pharmaceutical packaging – we had to think through the changes ourselves to make it suitable for the new process. We cut it in half, added angled supports on each corner and built up the height, before cleaning thoroughly as it would be used within a certified cleanroom environment. It was the first time I’ve used a plasma cutter and it was scary but brilliant – I was cutting through steel like it was water!
How has your apprenticeship benefitted you and your career?
It’s given me the theory and practical experience to take into my workplace. I was hired five weeks before we started our programme as OAS, and I didn’t dare touch anything in the workshop! Having learned milling at OAS for example, I’m now comfortable using a milling machine at work, I’m more in my element now that I’ve got some confidence and experience.
Having said that, it’s really more about how my apprenticeship going to benefit me in the future. After these four years are done, I’ll be more valuable to my employer and I’ll be a more well-rounded engineer – it’s only going to positively affect me, my CV and my career.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about applying to become an apprentice at OAS?
I’d say do it! You’ve got to want to do it and have your heart in it, but I can’t think of a better place to come and learn, and bear in mind that I’ve already been to other colleges. The facilities alone are amazing, and the training provided is second to none.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
The satisfaction. When you’re working at something for so long, and then it finally clicks and you get it – that’s a great feeling. We also built a Rube Goldberg machine using fluid power for one of the recent open evenings, and seeing people’s faces when they saw it in action was amazing!
What are your future career plans?
You get out of an apprenticeship what you put in, so I’m working towards getting the most I possibly can. I’m working as hard as I can to be the best that I can to earn the most that can. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds, but I’ll definitely be staying in engineering – this is where I want to be, and I’d love to stay at OPS because they’re a great company to work for.
Would you recommend apprenticeships to others?
I would. You go into industry and you’re getting paid to learn about what you’re interested in and what you need to know for your job. It’s win win! There’s some pressure of course, but there’s also a lot of support. As I said, you get out what you put in, so you’ve got to be prepared to do the work, but if you’re passionate about engineering, then do it – what have you got to lose?