ISG is Cabling the Way for Apprentices
Written on: 24 November 2017
Written by: Baltic Apprenticeships
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We spoke to Wayne Blakeway from ISG Technology about his experiences taking on apprentice, Thomas Porter.
Could you tell me a bit about the background of ISG Technology, and what it is that you do?
I’ve been with the company for 24 years now, but it’s been going for around 30 years under different names. We’ve got 5 UK branches: one in Scotland, Manchester, Birmingham, Swindon and Rochester, as well as a project office which is based out in Bulgaria.
We do a range of work - cabling is a key part to us, as well as WiFi work, AP Installation, switches and routers. A big part of our company is in the retail sector – we work with Tesco, Morrisons, KFC, McDonalds, Lookers, and we’re looking to break into other retail companies.
I run a large contract at the University of Birmingham where we’re one of two preferred contractors. We’ve been on there now for about 10 years and it’s a big part of my work, particularly in the summer when the students are away - it gets absolutely crazy! We’ve got two guys who are based there permanently, and there’s always something for them to do, but I can have anything up to about 15-20 different engineers/contractors up there because we have multiple jobs across the buildings. That’s what Tom is currently working on.
Is that where Tom is usually based?
Not always, he’s been up there throughout the summer for the busy period, but he can be anywhere. He can be based within the office where he can help out in the stores with all the stock, pulling out different jobs for the engineers, and contractors that come in. He’s very handy around the office as well; if someone’s got a problem with their PC, or needs help setting up our video conferencing. He’s very technical minded: he loves that sort of thing.
He was supposed to be starting the training for a new contract for the Co-Op, installing WiFi’s, and APs across all of their central England branches – that’s 450 branches! But, it’s been put on hold for now, and the training is going to be in the next week or two. It’s a big promotion for him, in some ways, because we’re going to get him a van, all his own hand tools, and the training as well. It will be a good feather in his cap.
Since he’s getting this promotion, do you think his skills have improved over the course of his apprenticeship?
Definitely. A big part of our business is basically cabling from A to B. When he first started he didn’t know anything about that, and had never done it before. He was a lot more technical minded than things like that, but he adapted to doing the cabling no problem at all. I can remember we interviewed him, and about 5 others at the time, and for me he was the one that just seemed the keenest out of every single one. We told him that we sometimes work away from home, and that you could be working nights, or days, or weekends, and he wasn’t bothered: nothing phased him about that.
Since then, he’s had no problem with confidence. He’s very much ‘yep, can do’ rather than ‘I’m not sure’ and given any kind of training he’s keen to do anything. So he has improved on that side of things because he didn’t know about the cabling, and now he is confident with it. Some people say well surely pulling a cable from A to B can’t be that hard, but there’s a bit more to it than that because it’s what you’re doing at the end of the cable that’s important. He has improved even to the point where at the University of Birmingham, he’s been taking more of the lead role on some of the smaller jobs.
You said his role is quite varied, but what would an average day in the life look like for Tom in his new role?
We’re still in the early stages with that particular project so he’d be going out with some of the guys that are already trained up to see the actual work that they are doing. They’d be showing him how to do all the write ups and reports on a laptop.
When it comes to him going out on his own, he will be doing all that work himself – going to sites, swapping old APs for new ones - some sites have only got one. Some sites have 6, maybe 10, so there would be two engineers on the bigger sites. On the site, he would be doing a walk round with the survey on his laptop to check all the WiFi coverage in the Co-Op. That would then generate all the information ready for him to write the report up (It’s quite in depth what he would have to do), and then send that off to our project office. In the first instance, it would probably be sent off to the guys who are training him, just so they can go through this with him too, and make just a few little tweaks but in general it will all just be documented and then it would be kept in a folder, and sent on to the customer. That’s the basis of it for that particular project.
When he found out that the training had been postponed he was gutted because he was really looking forward to getting started. I think it was the fact that it’s a little more independence: we’ve put a lot more trust in him - the fact is we’re going to get him a van, we’re going to give him a laptop to do the work. He’s going to be doing his own thing, and it’s more technical compared to doing the cabling side of things. He was a little bit gutted but it will happen.
What was your impression of apprenticeships before you decided to take on an apprentice?
I’d never worked with an apprentice within the role that I’m doing now – we’d never had one. So you don’t know, you’re interviewing young lads or girls thinking: do they know about the job, do they know about what we do? Pretty soon, within the first couple of months, you could see that there was potential there, and that Tom was suited to the job role. It isn’t always completely IT, IT, IT, as cabling is also a big part of it, but Tom has adapted to both side of the business. He was willing to put more time into doing the cabling as well as the technical side of things. Like I say; no problems with working with apprentices.
Would you say that your impression of apprenticeships has changed?
Yes, I would say so. It gives you the option to give people the chance to do the things that they want to do, and we were willing to go out do that. It’s good to have as well because it’s always one engineer, and one assistant. That makes life a lot easier because obviously if you put two engineers on a job then the cost of the job goes up, margins come down, so it’s a good thing to have from the money side of things. You can pair an apprentice up with an experienced engineer, and then they learn from the engineer as well.
Do you think that staying on to do the Level 4 programme has helped Tom become more employable?
I think it has yeah. He’s learning more and more and more. He’s very technically minded anyway so I think he does get through these courses. I wouldn’t say they’re easy, but he doesn’t seem to struggle. It’s almost a year since Tom started his Level 4. If I’m totally honest, if it was my decision, which it partly will be, if he does want a job, there is a job there for him at the end of it.
How has your experience with Baltic been so far, and would you recommend us to other businesses?
Yes, I would. Not a problem. And it’s been good because I’ve not had any issues. There were 5 or 6 candidates put forward for the initial interview, all seemed pretty good. We took 2 on, but the others that came at the time, I couldn’t see them struggling. I’m not sure if any of them have been employed or have apprenticeships now, but I did think that all the candidates that were sent were all pretty strong anyway. The communication has been very good as well. Not a problem with Baltic, no problem with the people who work for Baltic, and yes, I would recommend you to others.
Do you think you’ll end up taking any more apprentices on in the future?
More than likely. I can’t see any reason why not. They’ve got the same amount of assistants as engineers so before we took on any more apprentices we would have to take on more engineers for the lead role first of all. At the minute I don’t think there’s any plans for that. I wouldn’t have a problem working with Baltic again if we did.
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