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Reflections from a Sussex apprentice ahead of World Youth Skills Day

Apprentice electricity linesperson, Cameron Stafford, 20, from Peacehaven, Sussex, is one of 100 apprentices UK Power Networks is currently supporting through skilled apprenticeships.

From Press releases - 13 July 2020 12:00 AM

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1. Tell us about your background?

I enjoyed school at Peacehaven Community School but didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wanted to be active outdoors, work with my hands and not sit in an office. At Met College in Brighton I learnt about plumbing, piling, brick laying, painting and carpentry, but it wasn’t clicking for me.

After college I got a part-time job at McDonalds. Working is completely different from school and college, getting yourself up and out to start a shift at 5.30am, seeing the different ways people react to things and working as a team. I learnt to drive during that year, which opened up a whole world of new options and that’s when I saw UK Power Networks was recruiting apprentices. 

I had nothing to lose and an interview is a great way to learn. I did my research and spent time preparing what I wanted to say in interview. As the weeks went by, I kept getting through to the next stage of the interview process and started to think it might happen. We had an interview in London where we wore virtual reality headsets and worked on challenges in teams. 

2. When did your apprenticeship start and when will you qualify?

I joined UK Power Networks’ apprenticeship scheme last September and am nearly a third of the way through a three year training course, equipping me with the skills to be an electricity linesperson, keeping electricity flowing to homes and businesses.

I’m part of UK Power Networks’ Foundation Craft Apprentice Programme and the qualification I’m working towards is Level 3 Power Networks Crafts Person. If working at height isn’t for you there are two other apprenticeships to become cable jointers and substation fitters.

3. What’s the apprenticeship training like? 

At first, I found it quite difficult because I wasn’t the best with heights, which isn’t ideal when you are going to be a linesperson. In our third week, we went to the Lake District on an Outward Bound course. We built a stack of crates higher and higher (we were attached to safety ropes at all times) and the further we went up the more I realised heights might be a problem, but my instructors helped me overcome that.

Since then we have had climbing practice on electricity poles. COVID-19 hasn’t helped with that but for the last four weeks we have been back at the overhead line training centre and my instructors have given me lots of time and really built up my confidence. I’ve had extra help and more time than the others and felt really supported by everyone and now I’ve gained that confidence.

4. Describe the mix of skills and training that you’re doing?

At the overhead line training centre we learn all the practical hands-on stuff. We start in the classroom, learning about safety and procedures, then go into the field to get hands on and see how it works.

We go to Bridgewater College in Somerset for 15 weeks during our training, in three five-week blocks. All our meals and comfortable accommodation are provided, just round the corner from the college.

I have also spent time shadowing qualified linespeople from my future depot in Southwick.

5. Why is it important to you to gain skills and training?

I always wanted a job doing something different every day, working outside. It’s not just an easy day. I’m learning and because it’s a challenge it’s good fun. Sometimes when I go up a pole I will be really frustrated with it but when I come down, look up and see the work I have done, I feel really proud of it. I’ve been in the company just under a year can already see why people love this job and why it’s such a highly recommended apprenticeship and career, because you gain that sense of achievement.

6. Best things about the training so far?

As well as being a challenge every day, the instructors have really helped. They never once got frustrated with me. They give us as much support as we need. Even when I’m frustrated coming down the pole they keep us positive and we want to succeed for them.

7. Finished with education when you qualify or aiming for lifelong learning?

I want to progress and keep learning new skills. I want to gain experience as a linesperson and think about progression. There are so many opportunities to progress in this company and being able to help others is a good feeling. If someone is making the same mistake I just made on a pole then I want to help them out. I can see how being an instructor would be very rewarding.

8. What do you enjoy about your role? 

I used to be shy when I left school, but now I like talking to people. If my colleagues are busy on the pole I will keep customers informed. I want to come across as welcoming, honest and reassuring.

9. Any advice for young people finding it difficult to get on the career ladder?

Keep trying. If you are in a part-time job and can’t see yourself staying there look at apprenticeships. Pick out five and apply for all of them. Go for everything you see and talk to people about what they do for a job, get different opinions and keep your options open. Don’t assume something is not for you. Going up those crates during the first weeks of my apprenticeship I could have said to myself, that’s not for me, but I kept trying and started to feel what it’s like to achieve your goals.

10. How has COVID-19 affected your training?

COVID-19 affected us quite a bit but we tried to stay positive and keep learning. We were meant to have an instruction course in March, then our last block at college. Instead we spent ten weeks at home. It’s hands on learning and you can’t climb a pole at home, but we had regular team calls with college and daily contact with managers, who were really honest with us, none of us were left in the dark. We did as much e-learning and revision for the next college course as we could.

11. How will your future role help the country’s recovery from the pandemic?

I have two more years of learning before I qualify as a linesperson but after that, I’ll be trying to be there for everyone, even if it’s reassuring customers, keeping spirits up as well as keeping the lights on. When I get a call at 2am, it’s pitch black, horrible and raining outside I will try to be positive, because there is someone out there that can’t turn on their lights and they need our help.