Meet Connla, An electrical maintenance Apprentice with People 1st.We visited Connla in her workplace in Belfast to find out more about her career journey so far and her apprenticeship with IceMOS Technology.
Works at: IceMOS, a micro chip company based in Belfast
Apprenticeship sector : Electrotechnical
Overview: Install, maintain and repair electrical systems in industrial, commercial and domestic environments.
Qualification: Level 3 apprenticeship
What age when you started: 24
Apprenticeship duration: 4 years
What age when you will finish: 28
What led Connla to do an Apprenticeship?
“When I left school didn’t know what to do so I went to Belfast Met to do engineering, but I wasn’t enjoying the course so I dropped out..a friend told me I could do an apprenticeship where I could work and earn while learning. I had no idea how to go about getting an apprenticeship or a company to employ me on and that’s when I heard about People 1st and how they could help me.
I always loved electrical stuff from a young age as my dad is an electrician and I used to go out in his van and do small jobs with him on the evenings and weekends and I just loved to watch him working and to learn from him…so I think its just in my blood so I decided Id like to do my apprenticeship in electrical maintenance.”
How did you find it getting started with your Apprenticeship?
“People 1st were so supportive right from the start- they introduced me to IceMOS, a company which I had never heard off even though I literally l just live down the road, I went to meet them and I thought it would be a great opportunity for me. I started in April 2018, as you can start an apprenticeship all throughout the year. I was 24 at the time and I am due to finish my apprenticeship at the end of this year, and I will be 28 when I finish. When I started I did 8am-4pm every day but now I do 4 days on and 4 days off, with each working day being a 12 hour shift and then there is the opportunity to also do overtime as we are always very busy. 4 days off together is amazing – its so much better for work/life balance and although the 12 hour days are long you just get the head down and get on with it.”
How have you progressed and developed as an employee while working at IceMOS?
“If you work hard and stay focused IceMOS will reward you and they have really good progression opportunities. They have recently promoted me to a full time technician and have also offered to give me a full time job so I can continue working at IceMOS once my apprenticeship is finished. I want to keep learning and there are fantastic career opportunities here to progress to management and to do a level 5 qualification or to also do other courses such as specialist training on machinery in Germany and other electrical courses and I could always progress to a university course if I wanted. As I have grown to be a valued member of the team over the years, IceMOS would support me through all of these options which is great financially and is also amazing for my self esteem to know this too. “
Why would you recommend doing an Apprenticeship?
“I have changed massively as person since I started my apprenticeship. I loved it as soon as I started, as I was learning new skills every day, meeting new people and gaining lots of ‘on the job’ experience, while I was also getting paid. I would seriously recommend it to anyone who feels like tech or uni just isn’t for them, maybe they just want to get straight out into the working world and not waste time as I wish I had known about it earlier myself as I would have went straight to start it after I left school. It can be hard to break into the working world without experience so I think this ‘hands on’ knowledge and experience is like gold dust to an employer, as once they see that on your cv then it is a different story. With an apprenticeship you get the knowledge, the experience and the salary all combined from the beginning. I had my maths, English and ICT when I started so I was lucky as I didn’t have to do the extra classes, but if you don’t then People 1st will also help you to get those qualifications too. Lots of my friends who went to uni came out with £30,000 worth of debt and yes they have learnt new stuff but its more ‘academical’ knowledge and no real practical experience at all…whereas I was able to start earning as soon as I began my apprenticeship and I have had multiple pay increases during my time with IceMOS so personally its been great for my independence and personal growth. “
How did you find it integrating within the IceMOS team?
“The team at IceMOS have been so supportive and great to work alongside. Everything I learnt, I have learnt from scratch with them as it is very specialised work, so I really was a total beginner when I started- but I think they like that as you are starting with a clean slate and no bad habits picked up in other work environments. They have taken the time to show me things properly and they are very open to helping you learn and they all have different experiences so you get the input from all their knowledge joined together. Everyone is so friendly and the best thing is that they really want you to succeed and progress. I was very nervous at the start to be honest as before I would have had very low confidence and felt very introverted and would have hardly spoken to anyone. I have come on so much and developed so much, I am used to dealing with so many different team members as we have over 70 different staff working here, and this has been great for my growth and to develop professional people skills. I have really enjoyed it and have to say it has been great for my self esteem when you get praise from the management for how well you are working and that feels really good to hear. Also getting the couple of promotions and salary increases also makes you feel really worthwhile as a team member and proud of the quality of work you can provide the company. I know they are really happy with me which is great feeling and being told there is a job for me when I complete my apprenticeship here is so motivating and makes me feel I am on the right path and made the right choice.”
What do you enjoy most about your job here?
“It is very fast moving environment and no two days are the same which keep it very interesting. You are always working to a deadline, normally for shipping as we have lots of international customers and a strict shipping plan every day to make sure that we make the time frame that we have promised these customers. Our customers are across many different luxury goods and some ones you would never believe that we make integral parts of their mechanics here such as luxury watch parts for Fitbit, Rolex, Patek Philippe, and for high tech smart phones for Apple and others. We also make sensors for ABS braking systems in cars and also chips for processors for IOT and cloud computing. I think the fact it is demanding mentally, really keeps me on my toes and helps me to not get bored. There are so many challenges every day in this job and things that you may never have come across before ..there are new issues with machinery and they can be very expensive machines that we work on so you have to always be ‘on the ball’ and have to really pay attention to all the different tools and machines that we use and work on. You have to try and work at high speed to find the issue as soon as you can so you can fix it and get it shipped to the customer. I love this high pace and energy as it helps keep me motivated.”
What surprised you when you joined the team?
“At first I couldn’t believe the protective clothing you had to wear! We get special boots, suits, hair nets, gloves and hood that covers all of your face except for your eyes. At the start it was very weird and you felt very slow to get used to it and a bit restricted with it on but I soon got used to it! We have to wear this specialised clothing without fail or we are not allowed into the most high tech part of the business – the ‘clean rooms’ where we join the 2 wafers containing the microchips together. It is all specially controlled environment, all the doors are controlled and we have to pass through an air bath where we get blasted with air to take any particles off our clothes before we enter the ‘clean room’ to work on the micro chips as any spec of dust or dirt can damage these expensive chips and cost the company thousands of pounds. You wouldn’t believe it but the air in it is so clean its cleaner than an operating theatre!”
Electrical and technology are still very male dominated career paths- What advice would you give another girl at home who would love to work in this field?
” If I Could give any advice to girls sitting at home it would be to just do it- go for it- don’t be afraid as you will not regret it..and if you are afraid just feel the fear and do it anyway. Every company can benefit from more women coming into more traditional male dominated roles as I have seen with my time in technology here at IceMOS. If you look around there are opportunities for women to get into big companies locally like NIE and others, wanting them to be part of the team dynamic as they know we can bring so much to the table. Even from starting my apprenticeship when I was 24, you would hear the employer say that the female attention span is much better than the other male apprentices who joined at the same time as me, especially with the younger apprentices. I am the only girl in the company here working in the technical side of things but I feel that my attention to detail and maturity towards my work has helped me massively. Yes when I first started it was a bit intimidating as its mainly a male environment and they all were a lot older than me as I was only 24, but after a while I really started to settle in and my manager Dariusz has been a fantastic mentor to me since day one. He took me under his wing and showed me the ropes and then I started to find my feet a bit more and because I was so keen to learn, then he was able to pass on so much of his knowledge to me as he has worked here for fifteen years so knows it inside out. I was able to start at the bottom rung but I am fast moving up the ladder which is really exciting! “
Employers Testimonial- IceMOS Technical Manager -Dariusz Rabczak
“Connla is a fantastic addition to the IceMOS team…she has developed into a very talented technician over her time here, in fact one with the best attention to detail and ability to multi task that I have seen in a long time. We have 126 different processes and 100 different machines to work on but Connla was controlling this almost like a technical manager which was very unusual to find in someone so young, but fantastic for us. The key with this type of work is your attitude and Connla came with an amazing approach to learning and wanted to take everything on board and improve and take feedback and listen to others who had more expertise than her. She was so happy to learn from the start and she had great patience as we had to take things very slowly at the beginning as we are working with multi million pound machinery here and if you make a mistake it can be very costly like thousands and thousands of pounds to fix it. Connla understood this and was very patient and listened carefully and learnt everything she could absorb from her co-workers. Around about one year into her apprenticeship we saw a massive spike in her skillset, so much so that we were able to give her more technical work and with this came a promotion and a chance to progress up the the company ranks, which we were delighted to do. “
How has the Apprenticeships programme benefitted your company?
“We would highly recommend the Apprenticeships programme to any other employer who is thinking about it, as we have had an amazing experience with Connla and her journey here is really only beginning. Over these last couple of years she has developed so much and brings so much to the table that we want to give her the opportunity to stay on, after her Apprenticeship is completed later this year. The scope for progression is very high here and we hope that she will continue to move up the ladder at IceMOS, and her salary growth potential is also very positive moving forward with us. As an employer you have to invest time and money into your apprentice to train them properly and give them this knowledge base to develop their skills, but as Connla has shown-once you do this, the rewards are tenfold what you get back. We would take ten more People 1st apprentices like Connla, we are so happy with the quality of her work, she is a real asset to the IceMOS team.”