After 17 years of engineering in the Army and mass production lines, Gaz joined OAS to pass on the skills that opened so many doors for him as a teenager and beyond. We talked to him about what makes OAS different from other training centres, why resilience is so important in engineering, and the joy of ‘penny drop moments’.
What was your prior industrial experience before you joined OAS?
I’m an ex-Army engineer – I was a weapons engineer for the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers for the first five years of my career, that’s where I got my engineering qualifications. I’ve been out for 12 years, working predominantly in mass production factories. As well as a bit of contracting, for more than half of that time, I was a lead maintenance engineer at Honda in Swindon, where I also mentored and looked after the engineering apprentices.
What would you say are your career highlights?
There are so many! But I think the one that really stands out was a project at Honda. I was in charge of overhauling the production line, retrofitting it to manufacture the new type R model. It was a big challenge – time is money in all industries, but it’s especially true on a production line, and there were some pretty challenging time expectations – but it was really nice to see them rolling off the conveyor belt at the end of the project and thinking ‘I did that!’
Why did you decide to become a trainer?
I didn’t have a great deal of options when I was growing up, mainly because of the area where I lived. I was lucky to have been taught engineering by some fantastic people in the army, and it’s been engineering that has then given me lots of options. Engineering is how I bought my house, how I put food on the table for my family, and how I’ve been able to see the world. What a wonderful thing to be able to do the same for someone else – to give them all the tools and skills they need to have a great life. Being a trainer is very fulfilling, and from a personal point of view, it’s great to think that I’m leaving a legacy.
What do you enjoy most about your training role?
The apprentices. You can’t be a teacher and not enjoy teaching people! I’m here to see those penny drop moments, that’s what I get really excited about. Many of the learners arrive in the workshop quite trepid about all the machinery, and watching them transform, supporting their growth as they work towards that moment – that’s what I love about being a trainer. As someone who’s worked in manufacturing for a long time, I’m used to having an end product. My end product is now that moment when the apprentice leaves the classroom, and I know they can confidently do the job that we’ve been practising for weeks.
How is OAS different from other training centres?
We’re very lucky to have fantastic resources – the equipment here is second to none, at least as good as what’s being used in industry. The way we recruit our trainers is different too – we take industry experts and teach them how to be great teachers, whereas my experience of other colleges is that they tend to work the other way round. In my opinion, learning from industry experts who have hands-on industrial experience of the subjects they’re teaching is much better for the real-world application of the skills and practices that we’re giving to our learners, and that they will take back into their employers. I’m a good example of this approach – with 17 years’ engineering experience, I’ve just completed my Certificate of Education, and I’m now working towards becoming a qualified assessor too. OAS is investing in me, so I can invest in our apprentices.
What makes a good apprentice? What qualities do apprentices need to make the most of their opportunities here?
You have to be resilient. There’s no engineer in the world who can solve every problem, so it’s about knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do. Engineering is about coming up against a problem or barrier, and using processes and procedures to work out how you can overcome it. That’s what makes a good engineer – the ability to roll up your sleeves and think ‘this looks difficult – let’s get started’.
What advice would you give to prospective apprentices?
It’s important to understand that this is very different from school – your apprenticeship is a transition from a school environment into the world of work, and we’re here to help you achieve that. When you’re learning at OAS, you’re not a student, you’re an employee, a professional, who is here by choice. There are lots benefits to being an employee of course, and there are also a lot of responsibilities, so be prepared to work hard and be a good representative for your company. As an apprentice, the quicker you can make the transition in the mind, the better you’ll get on and the more you’ll gain from your apprenticeship.