Every year for Scottish Apprenticeship Week, we like to showcase Ayrshire apprentices who are at various stages of their learning.
Now we would like you to meet Darren Montgomery (left) and Mark Gibb (right) – third year mechanical engineering apprentices with RPC bpi group, based in Stevenston.
RPC bpi group is a leading global manufacturer of high performance polythene films and one of Europe’s largest recyclers of polythene waste.
Explaining how they got their start with the company, Mark said “I was first made aware of the apprenticeship opportunity by a friend who had started working here the year before.
“Engineering was something I knew I wanted to do. I was already planning on leaving school to do some sort of engineering course at college before this opportunity came up, and I just went for it.”
Darren said “There was a person at my school who was responsible for finding apprenticeships. I checked in with her and she made me aware of a few positions, this being one of them. It was a mechanical engineering apprenticeship which was the path I wanted to take in life.
“I thought I’d prefer learning on the job to going to university. I personally think it’s better to learn the hands-on skills while at the same getting your college qualifications.”
The first six months of their apprenticeships saw the pair attend college four times a week to gain their Performing Engineering Operations (PEO) qualification, entering the workplace one day a week. After six months it switched to four days on site with one day at college, which is still their current routine.
Mark said “When I first started I was given simple tasks to perform, to get me into it. As the job progressed I was getting to work on bigger jobs. You tend to get a bit more freedom once they see that you’re progressing.
“I think it took me a while to fit in. It’s a big step up from school. I wasn’t too keen on talking to people that much at first, as I was used to talking to people my own age. I think I’ve definitely came out of my shell a lot more and I get on well with everyone now.
“The guys in the workshop are great because if you’re struggling you know you can approach anyone and ask about the problem you’ve got. You know you’ll always get an answer.”
Darren said “It’s obviously difficult coming straight from school to an environment like this. I was 16 when I came here and I’ve been learning every day. For the first year some of the stuff was baffling. As I’ve progressed and learned on the job, it’s become much easier.
“Mark’s spot on – we do have a great team here. Everyone is willing to help you out and teach you all that they know. It’s definitely a great place to work.
“It’s a massive site here so there’s a lot to learn. I’ve gained a massive amount of mechanical skills and my hand skills have improved so much.”
As we’re celebrating Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2018, it was only right to ask them what they think of the apprenticeship route now that they’re in the second half of their apprenticeship.
Was an apprenticeship the right decision? Would they recommend an apprenticeship to a school leaver reading this blog?
Mark said “There’s not been a point in my apprenticeship where I’ve thought this isn’t what I wanted to do. It’s been great, I’ve been getting what I thought I’d get out of it – and then some. There’s a variety of jobs we’re working on in here. I’m working with pneumatics and hydraulics, and other machines that are mechanical based.
“I would absolutely encourage other people to go down the apprenticeship route.”
Darren agreed, saying “If it’s suitable for the person then they should go definitely think about going down this route. Especially if it’s a mechanical or engineering apprenticeship where hand skills are important. I’m learning a lot of skills on the job while gaining qualifications at the same time.
“I just thought it suited me more learning on the job. I’ve got more than I expected to be honest.”
Craig Wilson, Maintenance Manager at RPC bpi group, let us know why apprenticeships are important for the business.
“We felt we’d benefit from onsite apprentices because it’s a unique process here. We found with a lot of the people we brought in – it was hit or miss. It’s not until you see the process here that you fully understand the range of work we’re involved in.
“So we decided we’d try to develop our own apprentices who would have a good understanding of the business when they completed their training. Our aim was to make it fairly site-specific, and they’re really getting a wide range of training and instruction.
“Darren and Mark have progressed well and the results from their college work are good. Of course at the beginning it was a strange environment for them. They were coming straight in from school and learning about the plant. They’ve grown and developed into the role as they’ve gone on. We’re ultimately looking for them to become good engineers for the site. At this minute in time they’re on the right track, and we hope they keep moving themselves forward.”