Appenticeships: 'My possibilities are endless'

Starting his apprenticeship, the drop in salary was a worry – but #InspiringApprentice Craig Lyons loves his job

Craig Lyons

Craig Lyons, 41, says starting an apprenticeship has opened up new career opportunities

My name is Craig Lyons, I am 41 and from Newton Aycliffe. I am an apprentice toolmaker (HNC) for Gestamp. I’m currently in my third year and have every intention of carrying on, through to degree level.

I had seen apprentices grow in Gestamp, blossoming with skills, knowledge and confidence, and I always wished had done that. An internal vacancy was posted on the noticeboard for trainee toolmakers, following a full four-year apprenticeship route, and I absolutely jumped at the chance.    

Background: Minister backs #InspiringApprentices campaign

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We weren't told about apprenticeships

Careers advice at school was not given – or taken seriously – in 1994-95. We were handed a magazine or newspaper and told to look through it in the library. I also feel we were limited for options in the North East. If you had a father who worked at British Steel or ICI, then you went to work there. If not, you followed the academic route.

I didn’t have the luxury of a family member in a local industry as my father worked abroad at the time, so I chose A levels. I don’t remember once hearing of apprenticeships at school, knowing what I know now, would have absolutely jumped at the chance.

My initial expectations were to be guided through everything, having your hand held through decision-making and situations for four years. I was quite wrong. You are given all the basic knowledge, skills and safety training at the beginning and then you’re away doing the job – supported in the background in every aspect – but making difficult, important decision and taking ownership of your work. 

Selling raffle tickets

It has exceeded all expectations, however. The obligatory apprentice sweeping up has been replaced with [workplace organisation method] 5S and the making of tea has been replaced with selling raffle tickets and singing Christmas carols for Gestamp’s elected charity.

Each day an important safety brief is given along with a performance review of the previous day, and guidance on current workload and priority jobs. It’s my responsibility to know my targets and what is expected of me that day. I could be carrying out planned maintenance, repairing a press tool by hand or using the latest CNC technology to manufacture a new component.

I could be in a meeting, discussing the manufacturing process of a new product or a quality-critical issue, but at any point there’s always a chance you drop everything and get called out to a breakdown; where you’re against the clock to do a high-quality, lasting repair to get the press in production again, otherwise customer supply could be compromised.     

I love every minute of my job.

My line managers give me the utmost respect and offer continual assistance and encouragement in not only fulfilling my role, but also managing my workload, to create a healthy work-home life balance. I had a period of illness in the second year of my apprenticeship, and my training manager and my toolroom manager personally assisted me in my recovery and return to training after a long-term absence.

Getting your hands dirty

The variation keeps things fresh and makes every day different and a new challenge. There are not many jobs out there where you can sit in an office and design a component using computer-aided design software, and then get your hands dirty manufacturing it yourself.  Then there’s always the chance you could find yourself maintaining it later on in its service life during a production run or breakdown. I’m very proud of my job and the work I produce.

Some of my similarly-aged peers who went to university are comfortable in their employment. Others I know are still hopping from one job to the next, due to government cuts and funding streams, etc..  All of my peers who followed the apprentice pathway are doing very well for themselves and some are now top of the industrial tree.

There were some negative criticisms from colleagues, and my partner was concerned about the over £12K pay reduction. However, most of my friends were very supportive and incredibly proud of what they called a very courageous decision. 

Economic downturn

After qualifying, my possibilities are global and endless – who knows….Engineer? Manager? Toolmaker?

I have seen many periods of economic downturn and redundancy at Gestamp. It has supported my training and development – even before my apprenticeship. I took every opportunity to build my skill level and competency to survive the cuts and did so several times. Gestamp is a world-class company, which I intend to spend the rest of my working career with; possibly in a position of greater responsibility. Hopefully, and more importantly, I will see my son walking through the front gate on the first day of his apprenticeship in 10 years’ time.

If you are considering an apprenticeship, go for it. I guarantee you will never look back.

Craig Lyons is an apprentice toolmaker for Gestamp. He tells his story as part of the Tes #InspiringApprentices campaign

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