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Award-winner John’s driven by a thirst for knowledge

Hard-working John Baxter describes his surprise and delight at being named SJIB Apprentice of the Year for 2023

How does it feel to win SJIB Apprentice of the Year 2023?

I genuinely did not expect to win the award. At the interview stage, I felt my answers were honest and I was just being myself, therefore I was very surprised when I opened the letter and found out that I’d won.

Why did you want to be an electrician?

I have always been interested in engineering, having an inquisitive nature about how and why things work. My father, who worked in mechanical engineering, quite simply said: “Don’t become a mechanic!’’ So I enrolled onto the Shell Engineering Scheme to get a taste of electrical engineering, and control and instrumentation, and from that path I kicked off my career within industrial automation, combining both trades.

Was your apprenticeship what you expected?

I don’t believe I have had a traditional apprenticeship in all honesty, having done some previous work within industrial environments. My employer could see I was more capable than expected from someone at my stage of apprenticeship so I was given more responsibility in terms of solo on-site work and being the lead on some smaller-sized installations over the UK from the get-go. Without these extra responsibilities, I wouldn’t have learned nearly as quickly.

What did you like about your apprenticeship?

Being thrown in at the deep end to work out how to install or repair small to large-scale systems was a challenge. However, through observation of other work, documenting jobs and asking questions on everything, I feel I rapidly became an integral part of the team – without that challenge I don’t think I would have liked my work nearly as much. The rest of the team I work with are a great bunch, keen to learn and a good laugh, which makes working much more enjoyable.

How was the college training?

The college training itself was a welcome break from the on-site work, but in the early stages I didn’t find the majority of it very relevant to my personal interests because I had previous qualifications in electrical engineering. Nonetheless, there were some units and practical work in the later stage of the course that I was more invested in. My main lecturer also went above and beyond to teach us all good practice when working and about more practical situations, most of which I still use every day.

How about the experience of working on site with other trained electricians?

It wasn’t every day that I would be working with qualified electricians, so when I was, I made sure to ask about everything I could or to get them to show me the way they do certain things to improve my skill set. When I’ve worked with senior control and instrumentation (C&I) electricians or software engineers, I have always been amazed how many of my questions they could answer and the level of detail given. Within my industry there is a lot of obsolete/dated equipment still in use and I think it’s important the knowledge of these is passed down, as even manuals for such systems are now impossible to find.

Do you have any advice for others considering an apprenticeship?

Make sure you’re actually interested in what you’re doing as it is a fantastic start to a career that will take you all over if you want to. If you do go for it, stick in, do it to a high standard the first time and you won’t have to do it again.

How helpful did you find the Scottish Electrical Charitable Training Trust (SECTT) and your training officer?

SECTT recognises people who are willing to learn and stick in, and I think the apprenticeship scheme was smoothly run. Mike Geddes, who was my Training Officer, was invaluable. He had a great understanding of the different position each apprentice was in and was always open for assistance at any time, even with matters that would be outside of his responsibility.

What does the future hold?

I would be looking to specialise within controls, specifically instrumentation, and grow an encyclopaedic knowledge within this field, whether that be locally, offshore or overseas.

I would also like to continue learning Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) coding, and would still like to continue my studies and attain Technician grade within the next five years.


Employer’s view

Ewen McDonald

Director, Muirton Control & Automation

It’s a source of pride for us when the apprentices do well, and it all stems from the work ethic and focus on good workmanship present throughout the whole team.

For us, choosing apprentices always centres around finding the right person rather than purely on the best qualifications from school, and that seems to work. John has impressed me because he works hard and takes pride in his work, and he’s determined enough to see things through to 100% complete rather than just acceptable. He’s always willing and able to learn and add to his skills, communicates well and asks for help when he needs it. On the customer side, he interacts very well with them and does his best to meet or exceed their expectations.

In the last 12 years or so, we’ve had 13 apprentices, and 10 current employees have or soon will have served their apprenticeship with the company. Our apprentices have always done well and have never usually been far from the top apprentice spot at either Moray or Banff & Buchan colleges.

In our experience, if you treat young people as you would expect to be treated yourself, give them clear goals and stretch them, they’ll respond and exceed your initial expectations.


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