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07 February 22

Luke Rose an Affinity Water apprentice tells us how he climbed the career ladder to succeed at University with a first-class honours degree

Luke Rose joined Affinity Water in 2011 as an apprentice Production Technician. Since then, Luke has not only completed his apprenticeship, but he has gone on to complete and achieve a First-Class Honours degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from London Southbank University.

Here in an exclusive interview for National Apprenticeship week from 7th to 13th February 2022 Luke tells his own story through questions and answers about his career progression and what his plans are for the future.

My story by Luke Rose, Electronic Systems Design and Development Engineer at Affinity Water

Luke Rose at his graduation

Why did you want to join Affinity Water?

My GCSEs weren’t great when I left school. I went straight into work and when I turned 19, I realised education wasn’t free anymore and it made me think about my future a lot more. Rather than take things for granted, I put a plan together about what I wanted to do and where I really wanted to be later on in life. I was a landscape gardener then, completely unrelated to what I do now. I always really enjoyed the hard landscaping, the building hands-on work. I looked into different apprenticeships and college courses and the one at Affinity Water just stood out. Affinity Water looked like a really good company to work for. I remember at school hearing about Three Valleys Water (now Affinity Water), and I just had some natural intrigue. I found the Production Technician apprenticeship and applied.

Tell us a bit about your journey at Affinity Water

I started at Affinity Water as an apprentice Production Technician in 2011. I had to start off by retaking my Maths, English and IT GCSEs and I went to college to study Engineering Level 2 and Level 3 over the first couple of years. I then studied for my Electrical Installation Level 2 and Level 3, again at college, so the whole apprenticeship was five years in total. I took a break for a year before I became an apprentice again – this time to do a degree apprenticeship.

I was working at one of our water treatment works at the time and I put a business case together to go to university. It was round about the time the apprenticeship levy had been rolled out, and I was able to find a part time degree in electrical engineering that was four years on a day release. During that time my responsibilities changed from a Production Technician to a Production Engineer although technically I’m still an apprentice – I’m probably the longest serving apprentice in the world – ten years! But I’ve finally finished my degree and I’ve got the rest of the year to put together my portfolio together and have a final interview to be passed as an apprentice. I’m now working as an Electronic Systems Design and Development Engineer – although my roles and responsibilities are that of a Production Engineer.

Why did you decide to do a degree apprenticeship? And what did this involve?

When I was at college, I really enjoyed it and I decided that electrical engineering was the path I wanted to go down if I was given the opportunity. When working at Chipping water treatment works, I was given a lot of opportunities to do different things. Progressing from Technician to Engineer was definitely the way I wanted to go and getting a degree would help me fulfil that position. I wanted to carry on learning especially in electrical, but also for the professional side of things it was really where I wanted to be in the job role.

The degree apprenticeship was four years on day release basis, so once a week I went to London Southbank university. A lot of time at Uni was lecture-based although there were quite a few lab sessions where you’d do experiments and write a report, like a logbook. At the end of each module, I had exams too.

How did you find studying while working?

It was tough. I was working four days a week, and then I was in Uni for one day a week. Covid hit halfway through year 3, so the first 3.5 years was face-to-face learning and the last 18 months was more online. When we went into Uni it was a 16-hour day after travelling into London, studying then travelling back. I was also juggling work and standby. It was tough but I wasn’t on my own. I was learning with a group, so we all got each other on board and would have team sessions in the library. The course was interesting, so I wanted to do the work and knuckle down. It was good fun.

What do you enjoy most about working at Affinity Water?

The two things that stand out straightaway are the people and the variety of work. The people make or break your workplace. At Affinity Water there’s always someone willing to help you and it’s really good working with the colleagues that I do. The second thing is there’s just such a variety. Sometimes it can be quite a simple job and you see instant rewards from the work being carried out and then other times it can be really tricky, and the odds are stacked up against you and you have to think your way through situations. Again, you’ve got people from all different departments helping you out as well so it’s always interesting to see how you work together to resolve any issues. That’s always really good and it makes it rewarding.

Now you’ve completed your degree, what are your plans work-wise?

I’ve still got the vocational side of things to complete which will keep me occupied for the next year; and I’m still learning. I’m always learning new things because the projects are so varied. One minute it could be electrical, next it could be civil, doing projects in-house, direct delivery, just always learning really.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

I haven’t thought that far ahead. Hopefully I’ll still be doing this role if I’m honest. I feel like this role’s perfect because you’re part of the leadership team so you have some responsibilities, but it’s not solely desk-based, you’re out to site one day then back in the office another. I’m kind of content where I am.

Have you got any advice for anyone else starting out?

Yes, keep asking questions and network because there’s always an opportunity to learn new things from people. When we first did the apprenticeship, we were very lucky, and we worked in all different departments, and it’s helped massively in ways that you wouldn’t realise. Always try and meet new people from different departments and get knowledge from all around the company and just be a keen bean.

What formal qualifications did you leave school with?

Only GCSEs. They were OK but not great. Some of my results spelt FUDGE and I failed IT. Luckily, I was required to retake IT, Maths and English when I first started the apprenticeship.

Did you have to swat at night while your friends were out and about?

Yes, loads. Lots of times I was asked to go out and I had to say “no, absolutely not”. In fact, lockdown was kind of pleasant if I’m honest as it meant I could just focus on my work, and I didn’t have all that distraction. There were definitely nights where I really, really wanted to go out or I couldn’t go on weekends away as I had exams, but it was worth it. Some weekdays were spent in the office after hours working late and ploughing through ten buckets of tea and entire packs of dark chocolate digestives to keep me fuelled.

How do you compare yourself now with your friends who went to Uni? Did you miss the experience of moving away from home and all the social life?

Yes, a little bit. My girlfriend at the time went to Birmingham University so I’d spend most weekends up there so luckily, I got a bit of the Uni life that way, but it’s completely different seeing what she did at Uni compared to what I did. It’s miles different but not necessarily in a bad way. I think I’ve got the best of both worlds. I’ve got the qualification and the experience at the same time – and I’ve been earning while learning too – win-win.

Your family must feel proud of you? Any sibling rivalry?

When we were younger there was some sibling rivalry but the older, we’ve got the more we try and elevate each other, always. Every time we talk to each other we just try and drive each other higher. We still take the mick out of each other a lot though. My family are very proud at what all of us have achieved.

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