Gavin Davies

Gavin is an engineering apprentice at English Provender Company. Here he describes his determination to become an electrician, juggling a full-time job at a fast-food chain and courses at college, before applying for a life-changing mechanical engineering apprenticeship.

In February 2022, Gavin Davies won the TSW Training Apprenticeships Learner Of The Month award. When we caught up with him to hear about his apprenticeship experience, he told us about his pursuit of a challenging career that would develop his abilities...

Hello Gavin! Please would you introduce yourself?

I work at the English Provender Company as an apprentice engineer. I am electrically biased, even in college, but I need to have a broad scope over the mechanical side. I also work on pneumatics just because of the machinery I use.

Is this your first apprenticeship?

This is my first apprenticeship. I was doing some courses in Ebbw Vale College - electrical installation Level 1 and Level 2. I’ve been learning with TSW Training since last March (2021), when I started my job. 

I’m older than the typical apprentice at 31. I started my career in McDonalds behind the tills in the kitchen. From there, I went to a plastics fabrication job in Cardiff, but I went back to McDonald’s because I wanted the freedom to go back to studying and become an electrician.

I did the Level 1 and 2 off my own back in college while I was at McDonalds. My job was in building and maintenance then, but when this opportunity with English Provender came up, I grabbed it with both hands.

Are you enjoying the apprenticeship?

I am enjoying it. I wanted a career as an electrician and there is so much scope and it’s a broad environment to be in. The one thing I will say is that it’s very challenging, especially at 31 years old. To go back to college and do it all again, it’s hard, but the learning process is good and really enjoyable. A good challenge, it’s what I wanted.

How is your work/life balance in comparison to holding down a full-time job and going to college in the evenings?

I have a better work/life balance now. I make up the eight hours that I’m in college during my shift patterns. I do 10-hour shifts instead. And I have two mentors, so I’m learning from them constantly and consistently. I have lots of support, especially from the head of engineering, Steve Jackson.

What appealed to you about your role with English Provender?

It was the opportunity and the chance to progress within the career.

I thought engineering was all mechanical and old fashioned, but seeing it, so much is electrically driven. I wanted to be an electrician and that was what motivated every other role I had applied for before, but most employers avoided me because of my age.

This an opportunity was so much better – the scope and challenge of the job was great. I want a good challenge in my career to keep my day-to-day and mind active.

How does the team at English Provender support you?

My original head of engineering, Stuart Pankhurst, gave me the opportunity and he was fantastic right from the start. He was available any time to me and offered to help with everything he could. Steve has just been just the same. He asks me how college is going and if I need time to catch up, he always offers for me to do it during working hours – not that I need to! But they are always supportive.

I was originally working permanent days, but that meant I was crossing over shifts all the time. It was hard to work with three sets of different engineers, who give you six different ways of learning. I chatted to Steve about it, and he paired me up with two engineers – Gary and Matthew – and now I’m always on shift and learning with them.

Let’s talk about your TSW Training TA, Rob. How does he support you?

Rob has been fantastic, so was my previous assessor, Adam. Rob took over and has been fantastic, that’s the only word I can think of. Fantastic as a person and as an assessor.

He mentioned that you broke your arm?

It was my hand! It happened last August in work. One of the tools malfunctioned, my hand came off the tool and hit the still blade. It was that sharp it went through my knuckle. It went through so cleanly that I didn’t feel it. It was one of those days. I’m absolutely fine now. I have full mobility and functions but I have three screws!

What motivates you to learn?

I always try and not look too far ahead, but I have an end goal. I want a good career and to go as far as I can.

The further you get with your studies, the higher up the chain you go and the more money you can earn. But for me, the motivation is getting the best out of myself no matter what I do. When I was a kid, I thrived when I was being as good as I can be. I put myself under pressure to keep going and keep doing it. At some point I was bound to succeed!

When you were at school, were you interested in engineering?

When I was in school, I was into football and rugby! When I left school, I was happy earning money, and I didn’t mind what I did. But the drive has come back to me in the last few years. I just got fed up, I thought: “I want a good career, progression and opportunities.”

Who supported you when you changed your career?

My family always support me no matter what.

My younger brother is an engineer as well. He went straight into it from school.

He has an NVQ, his college work, his Higher International Certificate (HIC) and HNC - he’s been all the way down the path and I saw the career progression first-hand. I know how rewarding it can be.

When I’m stuck, I talk to him. During the last two years, and pre-COVID, my girlfriend has cheered me on all the way too.

What are your top tips for balancing work and an apprenticeship?

When you’re working on your college assignments, job reports and knowledge questions, don’t try and do them in bulk. Attempting 10-15 questions in one day is too much. Do two or three for an hour every evening. That way, your mind is fresh, it’s only an hour and you keep your life outside of work.

At the end of the day, your NVQ and assignments are geared towards making you better at your job! The best way is to keep your head down and work hard. It’s a lot of time but it is so worth it.

What are your career aspirations? Where will we see you in 10 years?

The first thing I want to do is qualify!

I’d love to be a successful electronic engineer in a big company, doing well for myself. So long as I have a career and I am happy, that’s all I care about.

The only way you get the experience is by doing the job with good people around you. I can see myself mentoring apprentices. I would be happy to take people under my wing. Give them little tips along the way to get them through.