Engineering Talks 1.4: Bridgwater engineering student joins us for work experience

Harry Safe work experience

Harry Safe

This week we had a welcome addition to our engineering team at Taunton in form of the lovely Harry Safe, a final year student at Bridgwater College, who joined us for work experience.


Name: Harry Safe

Course: Level 3 Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering



How did you get the work experience at Rotec?

I was looking at the local companies and since my parents know Paul Prouse (Managing Director), I send him an email asking about any opportunities and he agreed to take me on for a week.


Is this the only work experience you are doing?



Could you guide me through your week at Rotec?

On Monday I was with Richard Renfree, working on Solidworks, designing disc brakes. On Tuesday I was with Dan Foster, doing electrical work on winching systems. On Thursday I was with Matt Cooke, testing release valves and taking apart flow control valves and today, I am building brackets for the winches I worked on on Tuesday.


Any highlights?

Yes, yesterday was pretty good, hands – on work.


So you prefer hands-on work to for example design?

Yes, both are good, but yes, definitely prefer the more hands on work.


Do you feel the experience benefited you, if so, how?

Definitely benefitted me, it’s a bit of an eye-opener really, it gives me an idea of what’s it actually like to work in the industry, instead of just not knowing anything about the work places.


What are your future career plans?

I am working on getting enough UCAS points to allow me to enter the RAF as an officer, which is what I want to do.

University Degree or an Apprenticeship?


The debate about university degrees versus apprenticeship is nothing new. The truth is there is no direct competition between university degrees and apprenticeships once they get past the application stage. It is like comparing red and white wine – neither is superior, it simply depends on the circumstance and personal preference.

However that doesn’t change the fact that there is a large number of new school leavers each year who are deciding to take the life altering step towards one or the other. Whether this is you or your child / sibling / friend or family member, it is important to know the pros and the cons of each choice as often the school leaver’s talents could be applied to both: apprenticeship or a degree.


Apprenticeships summary

  • Generally more hands on work
  • Provides in depth training in highly specialised fields
  • Earning while studying
  • Avoiding student finance and future debt
  • Smaller groups in class – more individual attention


University degrees summary

  • Highly focused on academic work
  • Keeping your career options open with a broader area of study
  • Many employers won’t consider applicants with the right working experience if they don’t also hold a university degree
  • Lesser barriers to further advancement in the long term

Studying at university offers the option to focus fully on studying for 3 (or more) years and offers a greater diversity of employment options after graduation, which comes in handy if you’re not entirely sure which career path to follow.

For many employers a university degree is also a mark of drive and achievement they find crucial when looking for new recruits.

KIRK KINSELL, European president of InterContinental Hotels says:

“University acts as a filter for people who can prove themselves to have goals, objectives and accomplishments and have survived in that environment.”

There is no doubt that the increase in university fees plays a crucial role when it comes to making a decision. A year after the rise in tuition fees, PricewaterhouseCoopers experienced a 200 % increase in applications for education/working schemes following A levels (comparison of years 2008 and 2011).

However the statistic increase of people not going to university will mean less competition for positions requiring degrees in the long term.

Kirk Kinsell says “If we think about today versus 20 years ago, today’s companies put a lot more emphasis on degreed candidates. I think degrees will be even more important in 20 years’ time.”

And it is likely this trend will indeed continue; a report recently launched by Boris Johnson claims that by 2022, 60% of jobs in London will be at degree level. This would suggest that apprentice trained workers will struggle reaching for high level jobs and will likely be eventually pressured into further education.

This being said, there is a probability that any further education will be paid for by an employer, leaving the formal apprentices virtually debt free, which is undeniably a rare occurrence in the current financial climate and may contribute towards overall life satisfaction factor.


There has been a long prevailing misconception in relation to apprenticeships best voiced by Steve Holiday, the Chief executive of National Grid:

“What we’re in danger of moving towards is an attitude of ‘if you go to university, you’ll be successful or if you’re not quite as successful, you go down these alternative paths’ “

The sentiment is clearly outdated if not wrong altogether. There is a demand for educated graduates, but there is also a huge need for highly skilled technicians. Many apprenticeship positions are as prestigious as a spot at the top 10 university:

“From receiving 9,000 applications in the year starting August 2009, BT received 33,000 for the following 12-month period for 500 places. In the same year, Oxford University received 17,000 applications for 3,000 places. BT is looking to broaden the scope of its scheme to include more IT roles and may take on up to 250 additional apprentices this year.”

(ANDY PALMER, Head of skills, BT)


People who opt in to enrol on in house training schemes or apprenticeship schemes have often progressed into senior roles within the company.


IAN POWELL, Chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers says:

“Students joining the firm on this route earn a competitive salary while studying for a professional qualification, plus there are no student debts to repay. One of our current board members joined the firm as a school-leaver and is a great example of the fact that those who don’t pursue a degree can make it to the top of the firm.”


Whether you decide to go to university, join an apprenticeship or an in-house training scheme, it is, without a shadow of a doubt, worth considering a career in engineering.

(What is it like to be a Woman in Engineering? We asked Claire, our electrical engineer)

The engineering industry in particular has been struggling with a shortage of talent, the problem being more a case of quantity rather than quality however. The companies agree that the individuals recruited are excellent, willing to learn the skills necessary and learning fast. The situation seems to be worse for smaller business, with smaller marketing and recruitment budgets, it is difficult for them to get themselves in front of school leavers and graduates at first place. So what happens then is that a large number of applicants compete for a small number of jobs with the industry giants, and often get discouraged if unsuccessful, finding jobs in other industries, while small companies (especially the ones in more remote areas) are screaming out for suitable candidates.

Rhys Morgan, director of engineering and education at the Royal Academy of Engineering says:

“However, even if all these issues were addressed and 100 per cent of engineering graduates went into industry (a questionable aim in itself), we still wouldn’t have addressed the skills shortage we’re told companies are facing. In short, we need more engineering students. And this can’t be addressed just by engaging more with young people’, said Morgan. ‘Universities are almost at capacity,’ he said. ‘So even if we did get more students coming through to study STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] subjects, we’re not going to have the capacity. There’s a real timebomb coming up.’

apprentice Zac Huckle

Apprentice Zac Huckle with his mentor

This is why companies like Rotec offer apprenticeships or in house training schemes.

(See interview with Zac Huckle, our engineering apprentice)


For anyone considering an engineering career and would like to find out more

about the options available to them please follow:


If you would like to search for specific apprenticeships and study courses you can look here:









Engineering Talks 1.1 : Interview with an Apprentice

Are you currently considering your options following A-Levels? You might find this article helpful: University Degree vs Apprenticeships: Pros & Cons


Name: Zac Huckle

Job Title: Engineering Apprentice

What does your typical day look like?

I help out around the workshop, working on hose connections, or try to come up with improvements whether that be the way the shop looks or regarding our internal processes. If there is a call out I join one of the engineers and go out to help on the job.


Rotec Hydraulics Plymouth Depot

Speaking with Dave Nance, Rotec Plymouth Depot Manager

I heard there is a bit of a story behind employing our new apprentice Zac?

Yeah, Zac has been with us for about 6 months before he became our apprentice. He first joined us as a warehouse assistant, after a bit of an uphill battle (laughing). He send his CV in and at first I didn’t think his skill set was exactly what we were looking for so I didn’t pursue it any further. However he just turned up at the store one day, and I was really busy, but we had a quick chat and I was intrigued and invited him for an interview. Long story short, we gave him a job! He was great, right from the start he showed great attitude and initiative. He had no trouble following the tasks laid out for him, always going above and beyond of what was required. He has brought a number of improvements to our processes, organising the store and coming up with fresh ideas. We had an apprentice at the time, but it didn’t go very well and when the position opened up Zac offered to step in, becoming an engineering apprentice. Zac is 20, which unfortunately means the apprenticeship cost is a bit higher than usual (The National Apprenticeship Service only contributes 50% as opposed to 100%  t the cost of the course for 19-24 year olds), but because Zac has proven himself on the shop floor and out on site already, it was a no brainer. Carl (Rotec warehouse manager) is not very happy however, because he is losing a good pair of hands now Zac is being sent out on jobs more and more often.



Speaking to Zac:

What did you do before you joined Rotec?

I actually lived in Canada for almost 7 years before moving to the UK and joining Rotec. I completed my higher education there, after which I became a mechanic. I grew up around heavy machinery, with my dad working in the plant and tool hire industry. I learned how to drive diggers, dump truck and other heavy machinery and wanted to become a truck driver for as long as I can remember, but as I got older I started leaning more towards becoming a mechanic instead. I like working with my hands and love all things mechanical so it was an easy choice!


What made you take up engineering then?

Initially it was simply the closest thing to my mechanical background. When I moved to the UK I found out that my Canadian drivers licence couldn’t be transferred, stopping me from working as a mechanic as a driver’s licence is required because of the insurance cover. So I started looking at what I could do and I came across Rotec, luckily, as I really like working here! There’s a lot of variety.


Why were you interested in becoming an apprentice?

I feel I was given a chance, that perhaps the company has taken a bit of a gamble on me and I feel that studying and bettering myself will allow me to bring more value to the business in the long term and give back to the company, if you know what I mean?


This week was your first day at college, and I understand you were put through some vocational tests and received the highest scores all the way across the board (10! Congratulations btw!). What were the tests focused on?

I was asked to do a variety of tasks based around metal work.


We are looking forward to following Zac’s journey and future successes. He is currently based in our depot in Plymouth (lucky man, you can judge for yourself).


Author: Sarka Humpolcova

Date: 07/10/2016

Rotec Hydraulic depot in the Plymouth marina