The Cumbernauld apprentices working to keep the lights on

Written by Scott Campbell, Cumbernauld Media's Senior Reporter.

Published at 20:42 on 22 May 2015

Scottish Power

Roseanna Cunningham visited Scottish Power's Cumbernauld base yesterday. All pictures in this article are used on the courtesy of Bill Henry.

TODAY is the last day of Scottish Apprenticeship Week, and to mark the end of a week-long series of PR opportunities, and a long list of benefits and reasons as to why employers should take on apprentices and why people should consider an apprenticeship, Cumbernauld Media has spoken to two local electrical apprentices.

Sarah Speir, from Glasgow, and Sean De Pellette (inset), from Cumbernauld spoke to Cumbernauld Media yesterday, after the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills and Training, Roseanna Cunningham met with apprentices and members of staff at Scottish Power’s Cumbernauld site – Sarah and Sean among them.

Touring the company’s plant for 90 minutes yesterday morning, Ms Cunningham met six of Scottish Power’s apprentices, discussing the reasons that led them to become apprentices, and talking about the issue of gender inequality within the so-called ‘STEM’ apprenticeships: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Talking to Cumbernauld Media after her visit, the Cabinet Secretary said she had met a group of “fantastic young people” on her visit.

“It’s a great week - it’s Scottish Apprenticeship Week, and my visit here to Scottish Power’s plant in Cumbernauld, as part of this week-long celebration of modern apprenticeships, was to launch the Scottish Modern Apprentice of the Year award,” Ms Cunningham explained.

“During my visit I’ve been able to meet some fantastic young people, who’ve come from quite different backgrounds, and came into apprenticeships through different stages of their school – and in one case university – careers,” the Cabinet Secretary added.

“It just goes to show the variety of different ways by which people can get into a modern apprenticeship, and the stories of the young people today were really, really interesting – they’re all training, effectively, to be electricians and electrical engineers, and it’s great to see such skills being passed on in this way.”

Roseanna Cunningham talking to apprentices. All pictures in this article are used on the courtesy of Bill Henry.
Asked about gender inequalities within modern apprenticeship programmes – a key of the week-long series of events, aiming to promote the benefits that a modern apprenticeship can bring to both the apprentice and the wider Scottish economy – Ms Cunningham said: “The Scottish Government is working very hard to try to work out what the barriers are, and it was interesting listening to Sarah, one of the apprentices, earlier on, because the problem there was quite clearly perceptions of friends and perhaps some teachers (not all), which bore down on her to the point where she decided against going to University to study engineering, which is what she thought she wanted to do originally. 

“Fortunately, Sarah has found a sneaky way of doing something along the lines of what she originally wanted to do anyway, which is fantastic, and the stories of girls like her, I think, are really important as we are try to get away from the idea of there being ‘girl jobs’ and ‘boy jobs’.

She added: “It’s very important that we try to shake these perceptions of ‘girl jobs’ and ‘boy jobs’ because, first and foremost, there are huge skill shortages in Scotland, and if there are massive skills shortages, quite apart from the justice and equality side of things, it makes no sense whatsoever for employers to restrict their recruitment to only half the population – that just doesn’t make sense. 

“Therefore, we need to encourage more girls to come in to a much wider range of jobs, and in order to do that I need to work out exactly what the problem is, and we’ve just committed £500,000 to Skills Development Scotland in order to investigate some of these barriers, not just for women, but for people with disabilities and for people from black and ethnic minority communities to see exactly what the problem is in each of these areas, and what it is that we need to fix.”

Roseanna Cunningham talking to John Pinder of Scottish Power yesterday. All pictures in this article are used on the courtesy of Bill Henry.

After chatting to Ms Cunningham our reporter spoke to 19-year-old Sean De Pellette and 20-year-old Sarah Speir, asking them about their experiences while working at Scottish Power, and about the reasons that helped them decide to undertake an apprenticeship.

Asked about what brought him into an apprenticeship with Scottish Power, Cumbernauld teenager Sean De Pellette said his time with the firm had been “brilliant”, and his some of his friends and family members were “jealous” of his new found career path.

“When I was 16-years-old I left high school with not exactly the best of qualifications, so I went on to do a college course at North Glasgow College; the course was for things like painting/ decorating/ joinery– it wasn’t really anything to get my an apprenticeship.

“At the same time as I was at college, though, I also worked part-time in McDonalds. I worked there for about a year, before I heard about the PowerSkills programme, which was attached to Scottish Power. I liked the idea that there was a company attached to the programme, and that there was at least the chance of an apprenticeship at the end of the programme.

“I’ve now officially been an apprenticeship since March 2015, but through the different courses you can work your way up through to become an official apprenticeship, I’ve been with Scottish Power about two years now.

“Two years ago in January is the anniversary of when I joined the PowerSkills programme, from that I went on to the foundation programme, and then from that I’m now onto the apprenticeship programme,” Sean explained.

19-year-old Sean chats to Cumbernauld Media's Scott Campbell. All pictures in this article are used on the courtesy of Bill Henry.

Asked about what he has made of his time with Scottish Power, young Sean said “it’s been brilliant”.

“I never thought that I would be working for as big a company as I am, since a lot of my friends and family (a lot of whom are actually electricians) work with small companies. 

“I think that when I told them that I got a job with a big company like Scottish Power that they were actually quite jealous,” he joked.

Sitting next to Sean while we chatted was 20-year-old, Glasgow resident Sarah Speir. 

When our reporter began speaking to her, the rather bashful apprentice acknowledged that her chosen career path positively bucked a national trend, with male apprentices dominating electrical apprenticeships in Scotland, but said she would encourage others to follow her.

20-year-old Sarah talks to Cumbernauld Media's Scott Campbell. All pictures in this article are used on the courtesy of Bill Henry.

Asked about what brought her into an apprenticeship with Scottish Power, Sarah confessed to Cumbernauld Media’s Scott Campbell that she “never really expected to do an apprenticeship.”

“I had always kind of expected to go to University, and before I left high school I was interested in doing mechanical engineering, so I chose to do a baccalaureate of science in sixth year.

“As part of my project I looked into the hydrogen fuel cells in vehicles, which I had hoped would allow me to look at the mechanical side of things, though I ended up looking at the topic from a chemistry perspective, and I hated chemistry at school – physics was what I was best at, that’s the reason I wanted to look at the engineering or mechanical side of things,” Sarah explained.

“After I had left high school I applied to do a year in industry, though I had also applied to go to University, and do mechanical engineering. It was very clear in my mind, however, I wanted to have a year’s worth of experience before I went to University.

“I ended up getting interviewed by a number of companies, and I was successful with Scottish Power, whereafter I worked in Scottish Power’s office for a year, before I became an apprenticeship. Throughout my time in the office, though, I was still applying to both University and college for something to do after my contract came to an end, because I had never even considered doing an apprenticeship.

“One of the guys in the office had mentioned the apprenticeship programme to me, and suggested that I looked into the programme – ‘it’s a new apprenticeship’, I was told, and the end goal is engineering as opposed to a trade, so I applied to it, not really knowing what it was.

“The more people I spoke to, the more I learned as every person told me more about the programme. In the end I loved Scottish Power so much and the work that they offered that I took the opportunity.

Sarah added: “I’m similar to Sean in that my family all work for small companies, where there’s so much stress involved, because everyone is an integral part of the business – if you’re off work, for example, that’s a huge part of the business missing, so I like being a part of a business this size, with the support they offer.

“It’s a great business to be a part of – there’s so much opportunity.”

20-year-old Sarah Speir. All pictures in this article are used on the courtesy of Bill Henry.