From Apprentice to Head of Engineering: How lifelong learning shaped my career

Simon Robinson, Head of Engineering at Staffordshire based Capula, outlines the positive impact that lifelong learning has had on his career from apprentice to his recent appointment.

As we celebrate Learning at Work Week 2022, Simon shares his personal experiences on how an apprenticeship set him up for lifelong learning and the impact it’s had on his career.

Simon’s Story

After leaving school, I realised further education was not for me, I had a plan for career direction and Engineering played a part in that. I just wanted to get out there and try something out, so I applied for an Approved Modern Apprenticeship which led to my first role as a Process Control Craftsman at Blue Circle in 1998.

During my time as an apprentice, I worked with some great mentors who took the time to share their expertise with me. I recognised quite quickly that it takes time and patience to learn all the skills you need, especially to grasp the harder technical aspects of the trade. There were numerous times when I was confused by a task, or when a specific theory just wouldn’t stick, but I found that having a great mentor(s) and a professional network of ‘phone a friends’ really helped to guide me through this.

In my most recent appointment as Head of Engineering, I feel I am well placed to support and share my experiences with others starting out on their engineering careers, helping to support their development and identify the routes for career progression.

Building positive learning habits at the beginning of your career

I believe it’s important to encourage positive learning habits during the early stages of your career. Whatever your profession, you should consider your approach to learning from day one – and that’s not just about technical knowledge but those essential behaviours and ‘softer’ skills that will be invaluable to your career progression.

If you are undertaking an apprenticeship, this can help to establish a foundation for lifelong learning, as you’ll follow a work-based training programme. Not only is this important for learning from more experienced colleagues on the job, but it also ensures that you will be learning new skills daily.

My advice to anyone starting out in their careers would be to make a habit of asking lots of questions and to take advantage of any development programmes that are offered by your organisation. This will ensure you develop additional skills that will underpin your progress. It’s important to remember that you will never be expected to know everything, and that’s why I’m still learning every day.

Professionalism and lifelong learning

When you first enter the workplace, you need to learn how to behave professionally in a work environment. Being professional isn’t just about your experience and skills, or the qualifications you hold. Most importantly it’s about your attitude to work, and how you interact with your stakeholders, customers and colleagues.

Being an Engineering professional is about precision and taking pride in your work, seeing tasks through, communicating well, ensuring you don’t cut corners or take risks and that you work in line with Health and Safety regulations; but most importantly that you strive for knowledge and keep your skills up to date - a necessity for career progression.

Opportunity and growth

As technology evolves, then so should we. Ensuring that you are keeping up to speed with any changes by advancing your skills will be fundamental to maintaining your personal development and job security, as well as supporting business productivity and growth.

Personally, I have a dedication to lifelong learning. I ensure that I keep pace with technological and regulatory changes. The environment within which I work, and the way in which we work, has changed immensely since I joined the industry as an apprentice and so it’s been quite normal for me to have to learn new techniques and technologies throughout my career.

I’ve undertook numerous training and development courses to expand my knowledge, including leadership and mentorship training, to ensure I can provide the best possible learning experience for our future engineers.

In addition, I’ve achieved Chartered Engineer status with the Institute of Engineering and Technology, and I believe this is a fundamental part of any continued professional development and has enabled me to grow into my new role as Head of Engineering.

Generational knowledge sharing

Knowledge hoarding can be a big problem for organisations, so many are working hard to embed a culture where experienced employees can pass on their knowledge to the next generation.

It’s important to remember that even highly experienced engineers are unlikely to understand the entire portfolio of a company’s capabilities or solutions without further training.

At Capula we believe that bridging the knowledge gap between younger professionals and our more experienced engineers is essential – to both our own individual continuous professional development but also in sharing tacit knowledge and helping to tackle the skills gap.

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