The reliability of telecom networks has never been more vital, with young engineers helping keep people communciating  during the pandemic 

There aren’t many workplaces that haven’t been touched by the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

But for those providing key services in STEM sectors such as telecommunications, overcoming the challenges that presents has been essential, and apprentices are continuing to play a key role in serving customers.

At BT Group, the apprenticeship team has continued to induct apprentices into the business throughout the pandemic – mainly taking on engineers for Openreach – the digital network business, part of BT Group – and those working in other technology and customer-facing roles. 

Scott Baker, BT Apprenticeships Apprentice Delivery Manager for Scotland, has been working with his team to support new and existing apprentices. 

Scott said: “The way the business values apprenticeships hasn’t changed in light of the pandemic, as BT and Openreach still need to grow their talent now and for the future. Right now, there is a need for engineers to keep the country connected and continue upgrading the network to the next generation of broadband.” 

BT have been quick to look at new ways to provide learning support and resources for apprentices. 

Scott explained: “There has been an element of change for both trainers and learners.  

“We’ve had to adapt the way we take on, train and support apprentices through a more virtual environment, using Microsoft Teams and video conferencing.  

“We’ve also been adapting training packages, where we can, to include elements that can be done remotely, including PowerPoint presentations to support lesson plans.” 

According to Scott, apprentices have coped well with all the changes they have faced – from different learning methods to the new guidelines on-the-job. Scott said: “Our apprentices have stepped up to the challenge of working throughout the pandemic and are embracing new ways of working. 

“Some will always need more support than others so we continue to look at training that supports the individual.” 

Looking ahead, the organisation will take its experience working through lockdown to develop its training and support in the long term. 

Scott said: “I think everyone in business, including us, has taken some learnings from working through the pandemic. Even if the restrictions were to lift tomorrow, the experience has left us with new ways of working to help build the workforce of the future.” 

As a key worker, public health and safety has been a top priority for Graeme Taylor, an Openreach Telecoms Engineering Modern Apprentice. 

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Graeme has been working across the west of Scotland, upgrading the broadband network from copper to fibre at a time when households need it the most. 

Graeme said: “It’s been fantastic to be able to do my job during lockdown and know that I’m helping people get better connected for working from home and home schooling. I feel fortunate that I’ve been out working every day. 

“When I have to work on paths and pavements I do a risk assessment to ensure the health and safety of the public and myself before carrying out any work.  

“If I’m working in an estate people sometimes ask why I am there and they are so happy to hear that I’m going to be replacing their existing network and making their broadband faster.” 

The 32-year-old from Cumbernauld has had to adapt to new working practices in line with COVID-19 restrictions. Graeme explained: “Openreach has been a constant support and we are always getting updates from internal communications and management, who are being advised by the company’s Coronavirus team and chief medical officer. 

“Myself and my colleagues have been supplied with a kit that is well stocked with things like PPE and handwipes.” 

Graeme believes he has learned new skills by working during lockdown. He explained: “I’ve gained better interpersonal skills by having to work more on my own. I’m unable to do things like share tools with colleagues, so I need to make sure I’m well organised.” 

Graeme and his fellow apprentices have also supported each other to help adapt to new ways of learning and training as part of their apprenticeship. 

He explained: “I used to join a group of apprentices at a central hub in Paisley every three weeks but now we join a group call with our assessor from our homes.  

“There’s plenty of communications platforms that I’ve been able to use to learn and keep in touch, including a book store if I need to search for reference materials. As a group of apprentices, we’ve also built a tight network between us so we can gain support from each other at any time, which has been great for me to keep learning from others who are ahead of me on their apprenticeship.”

More information on apprenticeships is available at apprenticeships.scot

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Apprentices adapt to pandemic challenges

FOR apprentices working in sectors such as food and drink and hospitality, the Covid-19 pandemic has presented a particular set of challenges.

Supply Chain Graduate Apprentice Jordan Fairlamb has been based in the office almost every day since the outbreak of the pandemic.

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The 19-year-old from Irvine has been helping his Uddingston-based employer, Dawnfresh Seafoods Limited, whose main activities are aquaculture and food manufacturing, supplying most of the major UK retailers and also exporting worldwide. 

Jordan said: “I feel lucky to have been able to continue to go into work during the pandemic. The business has put in place additional health and safety measures to make sure we social distance and practice hygiene. It’s been good to be able to speak face-to-face with colleagues where possible.” 

Jordan moved into a new team in February, working in procurement and is responsible for checking forecasts and ordering ingredients.  

He has also had to adapt and learn quickly to new ways of working with his team colleagues, who have both needed to work from home. 

Jordan said: “I’ve definitely learnt new skills from working through the pandemic. I am checking and investigating any issues that arise on site, making sure that I am always keeping in touch with my team online. I’m making decisions and gaining confidence in my new role.” 

Whilst Jordan had already built up experience with his employer when the pandemic hit, Anya Sturrock’s career has only just started. The 17-year-old had taken up her Professional Cookery Modern Apprenticeship just two weeks before lockdown. 

Anya’s employer, The WeeCOOK Kitchen restaurant near Carnoustie, quickly adapted to the COVID-19 restrictions by offering food delivery and takeaway.  As a result, Anya from Monifeith has been kept busy prepping ingredients and making the restaurant’s award-winning pies for customers. 

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Anya said: “While I was still at school I had been working part-time at WeeCOOK as a kitchen porter and the owner, Hayley, asked if I wanted to join the restaurant on an apprenticeship.

“It was a big decision to leave sixth year early but it has worked out really well and I’m really happy and fortunate to be in a job at this time.” 

Anya has had to adapt quickly to the new ways of learning and working as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.  

She explained: “There’s new processes for kitchen staff to follow, as there’s only a certain amount of people allowed in the kitchen at one time and we’re assigned to different rooms to carry out specific jobs. 

“I have to manage learning on the job from other colleagues while I am practicing social distancing, which has been a challenge, but everyone has been really supportive and helpful.” 

Anya has also managed to develop new skills as a result of working through the pandemic. She said: “I have to make sure we have enough produce to support deliveries and takeaway, so I have that joint responsibility. 

“The work that I’ve been doing in the kitchen has also contributed to the college work I’ve had to complete.” 

More information on apprenticeships is available at apprenticeships.scot

  • This article was brought to you in partnership with Skills Development Scotland as part of The Herald's STEM campaign