1. Please give an overview of your role and what this involves on a day-to-day basis:
MECHANICAL ENGINEERING APPRENTICE
I am primarily based in the workshop working on machines as basic as mills and lathes all the way up to the more complex CNC machining and use of Electrical-Discharge Machines and even 3D printing in the additive lab. This may be for the proof of principle on a project, prototyping, machine builds or even capability studies. Working on projects for medical hand held devices or consumables or even the manufacturing of a production line that will be commissioned and installed at a client's factory eventually. There is a variety of work in a number of industries.
In a day I can work on a number of projects, some may be internal but the vast majority is client work. Some may include designing components before manufacturing them whilst other times I may be working off a drawing or even a rough sketch or verbal instructions. Often, I approach a week not knowing what it will entail, I may be on a project for the rest of the week and the next or it may be a collection of a series of smaller jobs throughout the week.
There are a number of technicians based in the workshop who I work alongside every day however there are a number of consultants who I work with regularly varying from Mechanical Design Engineers, Electrical Engineers, Software Engineers and Scientists to name a few.
2. Have you learnt any new skills or developed existing skills?
I started the apprenticeship having completed my A-Levels. From here I did a single year of a BTEC L3 before jumping onto the HNC course which I am set to finish in the next few weeks obtaining all Distinctions. PA Consulting has allowed for me to go to college to study towards this qualification for one day a week as well as allowing me time in work during quieter periods to complete assignments, something that is really useful and few employers allow. If I get stuck on an assignment or want additional lecturing or support then I can seek this from fellow colleagues who actually enjoy the challenge of solving the assignment issue themselves.
As well as studying for my HNC I can book onto additional training courses. These is one of my responsibilities to find training courses which will develop me as a person and increase my skill set. Up to date I have completed a series of SolidWorks courses and am now a SolidWorks Associate (proving I'm competent on the software to a basic level assessed via an online exam) and I hadn't even used the design software prior to starting my apprenticeship. I have also attended a number of H&S courses as well as first aid and a number of other industry specific courses.
If a course would really add value to yourself then it is really easy to get passed through and get yourself booked onto the course. During the school summer holidays when I am not at college my manager actually pushes me to book onto training courses. All the training courses I find myself which really does allow me to control my own career and tailor the apprenticeship to suit my needs.
I honestly cannot knock PA Consulting from this point of view.
3. To what extent do you enjoy your programme?
The facilities that I work in are really good, I was so impressed when I had a tour of the facilities during my assessment day and some of the kit I get to lay my hands on is pretty cool.
I get along with everyone that I work and consider a number of people friends that I work alongside. Something that I was concerned about when starting the apprenticeship as I was only 18 and everyone seemed considerably older (although there is quite a mix of ages employed here really). All the technicians that I work alongside daily in the workshop get along really well and have a laugh.
The culture of the company is hard working and unified. At times it may be that you have to work more than your contracted hours, this may be to complete client work to hit a deadline or it may be for your own personal gain via your college work.
Everyone, no matter whether or not you have had dealings with them before, will stop and help you should you require it or even just have a chat. On rare occasions it may be that someone is extremely busy at that moment in time (which I was warned about on my first day) but I have found that they are never dismissive when this occurs but normally suggest another time/date when they are free to help you.
The only reason I can mark the apprenticeship down on this category is as sometimes work can be repetitive however it is always a job that needs to be completed and someone has to complete it. It's not a task created specifically for yourself because you are an apprentice.
4. How valued do you feel by PA Consulting?
This is one thing that surprised me. Whilst I will still a reasonably junior apprentice I was working on a project that required a fair number of components designing from a number of constraints and then I had to manufacture these parts. I was working with a number of senior members of staff but in different disciplines and they left all the mechanical aspects to myself as I was the mechanical engineer on the project when they could have seen myself as a junior member and belittled or out ranked me.
Regular events occur within PA Consulting too that make me feel valued. This is just evident from conversations with certain people or the amount of time people are willing to invest in myself and my needs.
5. How well organised/structured is your programme?
When I first started I had a day or two of induction within the apprenticeship team before attending a PA global training course to get my up to speed with PA's culture and working ways.
Training is structure, in my first year an individual would come in and train us in the workshop on site as well as completing a PEO (Performing Engineering Operations) course at college. Others on the college course received no further training like this back at their employer. This really set PA apart from everyone else.
As I have mentioned previously, I look for courses that I feel would be of interest and would add value to myself and can book onto these. A small business case is put forward for each one but I am yet to have one rejected. Training is promoted but is for you to take control of yourself.
I have monthly one-to-one meetings with my line manager. This can be used to keep each other up to date on matters, requirements or expectations from each other, plans and ideas or can even be for more personal needs. I know that I can get in touch with my manager easily and arrange for a one-to-one meeting generally that day and can make these meetings more frequent if necessary so this is structured but flexible.
I can also request for certain people to be my mentor. This may mean that I am taken under their wing a bit. They may look out for pieces of work that are of interest to myself or may help me develop. They may explain certain processes or procedures. They are generally someone I feel more comfortable asking a number of questions without feeling like pestering them.
6a. How much support do you receive from your training provider?
I have 3 teachers in total for my HNC. The over ruling one is someone who I can speak to on matters that I may be concerned about. Again, this may be on a personal level which they may attempt to accommodate or support in any way they can. Generally, it is a very hands off approach though. The teachers are there to teach and will not support you unless you seek it.
Having been at a Higher Education College previously the training provider that PA use is actually pretty good. Nationally there seems to be a shortage of training staff for this level however this doesn't seem to have affected this college.
The college is actually building a new Engineering building too which they will be moving into shortly so new facilities are pretty much guaranteed for engineering students.
6b. How much support do you receive from your employer?
My employer tends to support myself over the training provider. Something I know people at other employers have had issues with. I have known other apprentices at other employers get into difficult situations because they almost partner with the college and side with them over the apprentice. At PA this is different, PA are linked to the college through you.
As I have mentioned previously, PA support you with your college work as much as possible as I have used a number of individuals to help myself develop an understanding on certain subjects to then aid in the completion of my college assignments.
7. How well does your salary/package meet your costs?
I moved away from 'home' to take the job at PA. Therefore, I have the real living costs of rent which otherwise would be absorbed by parents or family. PA I find pay reasonably and it does cover my living costs. There are also additional benefits such as a good pension scheme and private health care. There is also an annual bonus (performance dependant) which is generous.
8. Are there many opportunities outside of work?
PA host or attend a number of events of which some I have attended. There is a vast variety of events that you can attend at a variety of locations. These could be training based or just a subject of interest. I have noticed a number of events have been hosted at Cambridge University on certain subjects that PA employees can attend.
I have attended events focused at outreach into the local community. This may be attending a career fair to promote not just PA but STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects. Another event that I have attended that was really enjoyable was a Launchpad event which is aimed at children in primary school and they can visit a certain site, generally a local employer, and there are a number of engineering challenges they do throughout the day and they have a tour of the site. Very much like a school trip but promoting STEM subjects.
Now and then a social event will be carried out in the evenings. This may be a few drinks and something to eat with a number of people or it may be an activity. I've been invited to a pub quiz and I've been invited to watch someone in a band. There is quite a variety.
I moved from a city to the local area so how quiet the local area is did surprise me. This is why I have marked this category down.
9. Would you recommend PA Consulting to a friend?
I feel like PA have a lot to offer. It really is a great opportunity for someone to get into a well established and highly regarded company which will support them in their training and allow for the apprentice to drive their own career in whatever direction they prefer.
Some people still believe that an apprentice is just to sweep the floor and make tea. This is definitely not the case at PA. I feel like I myself have grown massively since I started my apprenticeship at PA.
10. What tips or advice would you give to others applying to PA Consulting?
I attended a number of assessment days and started to enjoy them by the end. I would say just try to relax, this will allow for the real you to come out.
Don't apply to one place, apply for a number of apprenticeships but only ones of real interest to you.
Give it your all. If you don't get the job then don't worry about it and move onto the next one
PA conduct an assessment centre where individuals will be challenged a number of ways. This includes an interview, practical tests and a mathematics test.