When it comes to building an accomplished career, success and attitude go hand in hand. Following his decorated apprenticeship experience, Voltimum interviewed Harry Bartle, a young electrician whose ambition and work ethic suggest he has a bright future ahead of him in the electrotechnical industry.
Harry Bartle started his apprenticeship with Chris Bowker ltd in July 2011. Since then he has won the ECA Edmundson’s Apprentice of the Year Award, JTL North of England Apprentice of the Year Award , been shortlisted for the ECA’s PowerPlayers initiative, travelled to Geneva to visit Schneider Electric, gained his testing and inspection qualifications in 2015 (as one of the youngest in the UK to do so) and is currently taking his HNC in Electrical and Electronic Engineering.
Voltimum caught up with Harry recently to discuss his apprenticeship, his career ambitions and why he feels there are some great opportunities for young people in the electrotechnical industry.
Why did you decide to join the electrical trade?
I decided to start an electrical apprenticeship because I knew it was technically challenging. I had looked into it when I was at school and I saw the benefits of using the transferable, vocational skills that I had built up during resistant materials lessons and working alongside my dad, a self-employed joiner. I also enjoyed maths and physics at school so I was confident I could handle the technical side.
Of all the trade apprenticeships available, I was certain that an electrical apprenticeship could help enhance the skills I already had and add a valuable string to my bow.
Did your school encourage you to take an apprenticeship?
Apprenticeships weren’t promoted enough at school.
I had to find my own route to it – mainly through my dad being in a trade. He knew the value that a trade can bring and it was mainly through working with him, and his friends who are electricians, in my spare time and on holidays that Igot the insight into the trade.
For people who aren’t exposed to those experiences, I can see how their choices could be limited.
What did you hope to gain from your apprenticeship? Was it different to your expectations going in?
I’ve always wanted to learn new skills and ask questions. I knew that over the course of my apprenticeship I could gain a National Vocational Qualification. But, I have also gained so much more from working with colleagues and building relationships which I think has enhanced my career and development opportunities in a way that isn’t relative to other apprentices
By getting out as much as possible and building relationships you can learn a lot more skills than you think. The technical side is important and is a side I take great pride and care in learning – especially fault finding. But I would definitely say that I’ve gained more than I initially expected from just working with a variety of people on site and asking questions.
Did you approach your apprenticeship with a career goal in mind?
I’ve always broken my career up into short-term goals and long-term goals. The short-term goals were, basically, the points you find on the application form for an apprenticeship which allows you to become a professional electrician. Completing those stages felt like a big achievement, especially after all of the time at college, exams and hours of extra work put in to get experience.
Along the way, as I was developing and saw the chance to take on project management and testing and inspection opportunities, I saw that there was more to the industry and I wanted to learn more about it.
This helped me focus on more long-term goals. I wanted to become an established project manager, I wanted to study further and see where I could develop my qualifications. This has led me to look at getting my HNC in electrical and electronic engineering and then a degree.
Looking ahead, what would represent your “I’ve made it” moment?
I want to be a Chartered Engineer. I would like to be a fully established project manager by the age of 23. Then, I think it’s achievable that I can be a chartered engineer by 28.
What do you enjoy the most about being in the electrotechnical environment?
I just enjoy going to work, especially the fundamental day to day tasks like fault finding and managing projects. I’ve been fortunate to work with some great people whilst I was training which has given me a broad perspective on how to approach and solve a variety of different situations and problems. I’ve also been part of a rugby team for the last ten years so I’m used to stepping up and being a leader. I want to be managing pricing scales and finding ways we can save or be more efficient on a project.
I also enjoy progressing. When I gained the inspection and testing qualification 2394 and 2395 in the 3rd year of my apprenticeship, that really made me think: “Not many people achieve this qualification at my age”. This has made me feel like I can push on now so I’m asking, even more, questions and enjoying every aspect of my job.
Do you feel there can be a goldfish bowl mentality with some apprenticeships? Do you think there’s a limited view on the career potential a trade apprenticeship can provide?
I think this comes from apprenticeships not being sold properly, especially in schools. There is more than just a trade at the end, the opportunities are a lot bigger. There isn’t enough information out there, especially for young people at school level, that shows the directions that a trade apprenticeship can lead you towards. It is just sold as a negative alternative which I find so frustrating. I look at the opportunities I have now I have finished my apprenticeship and the negative perception could not be further from the truth.
Do you feel the industry could do more to paint a more ambitious picture of electrotechnical apprenticeships?
I’d like to see apprenticeships divided up. Rather than just aiming in one direction – to become an electrician – I think there could be more categories of electrotechnical apprenticeship available. Some can offer a more technical, design-based curriculum – maybe covering system integration, so there are clearer roots to different aspects of electrical engineering and you come away from it with a different set of skills.
Even if it’s a case of using your initiative finding the extra training yourself, it would be great if there was some kind of guidance towards short courses and other opportunities that can advise young electricians on how they can upskill and areas they could specialise in.
Having said that, it also depends on the apprentice.
My dad has always told me, ever since I started school, “You’ve got to be proactive, you’ve got to go and question things and work things out for yourself.”
To be successful you need that career drive, you need to think about what you can do with your qualifications otherwise you end up waiting for opportunities like everyone else. You’ve got to try and be unique because that’s what makes you valued. The more skills you gain, the more you show interest and initiative, then you become the part of the team that is missed the most.
What message do you have for those who are just starting their apprenticeship?
To anyone who has just started their first year, I would say, most importantly, enjoy your job. You could be studying for over four years; it’s going to be difficult and challenging but it is important to persist and take the opportunity to learn every day.
Also, never underestimate how important communication skills are. The ability to build relationships takes you further than the job role that you are in.
When you fresh out of school, and you haven’t developed those skills, forming relationships with colleagues and clients in your apprenticeship brings the confidence out in you. By asking questions and meeting new people, learn more from their perspective and interpretation of the job so you can develop your own approach. It can help make you more meticulous and methodical, which helps improve the quality of your work.
Even at first, when you are mucking in cleaning up after everyone or making the tea, thinking:” Is this what I signed up for?”. You need to remember that this is all part of being successful and progressing.
You have to be patient and understand that as you build your experience, pass your exams and complete all the little jobs you will start to move forward, and it only ever speeds up if you get your head down and work hard.
From my experience, you could be making the brews one day and then handed something that is so out of your comfort zone and challenging the next. That’s why being proactive pays off. Before you realise it, four and a half years will have gone by and you will have accumulated a lot of knowledge. How you utilise and interpret the knowledge gained is the difference when planning the next steps in your career.