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Apprentice Case Study: Olivia Elvin

Olivia knew she wanted to be an engineer since watching her dad work on a race car on the drive when she was very young. After discovering her love of composites through a work experience placement, Olivia chose an apprenticeship to gain the hands-on training she excels at whilst she works for her family’s favourite racing team. We talked to her about what she’s learned so far, what she enjoys most about her role, and her contribution to a very special nose box!

Why did you choose an apprenticeship?

I’ve never enjoyed learning in a completely academic environment – sitting in a classroom all day doesn’t inspire me, and I get much more out of hands-on learning. That is why engineering was my favourite subject at school, as well as the reason I excelled at it. It also showed me than an apprenticeship was the best route for me, because I would be able to learn on-the-job and get a much more practical training experience than other pathways offer.

Did you have a particular career in mind when you made your decision? If so, what and why?

I had known since I was very young that I wanted to work for Williams because they are the racing team that my family has always supported. I did some work experience on an electric air speed record plane, helping the team with the composites side of things. In fact, I enjoyed my experience so much that I spent any days I had off during my sixth form studies back in the factory helping out the team! This really helped me to narrow down the area of engineering that I wanted to specialise in, because I knew from first-hand experience that I loved it.

Were you always interested in a career in engineering?

Yes, I grew up with a race car on the drive and I remember feeling in awe when I watched my dad work on it – and I loved when I was taken for a spin in my baby seat! I wasn’t sure which particular area of engineering I wanted to work in initially though, as there is such a wide range to choose from. My work experience was very useful in helping me to pinpoint the kind of engineering I enjoyed.

Did you have an idea of what an apprenticeship would involve before you came to OAS?

I knew a bit about what to expect because some of my school friends and family members have been apprentices. This also helped me to be confident that an apprenticeship would be the best way for me to start my engineering career.

What have you learnt at OAS?

Being at OAS has taught me so many skills, and not just those that are required as part of the qualification. So many of the most important skills I’ve learned aren’t on the syllabus, such as how to build professional relationships and work with lots of different types of people.

What sort of projects have you been/are you working on?

Since joining Williams, I have been part of many different and exciting projects. I have been laminating and trimming parts for the current car – it’s such a great feeling to see the cars on the track and know that you have been part of making it. I’ve also worked on a unique project, making the nose box for the FW11, which is a Williams Formula 1 car from 1985! This project has been a brilliant opportunity to learn new skills, and it’s also very interesting to compare the differences between the cars now and the cars 35 years ago.

Have there been any memorable projects/experiences from the training you’ve received at OAS?

Working in the workshop with all the manual machines, such as the lathes and mills, was especially memorable because it was so important to my development. I had used the machines before, but at OAS we were given the independence and time to experiment ourselves, which helped me to build up a lot confidence and capability. I will also always remember our lovely canteen lady, who never failed to put a smile on our faces!

How has the apprenticeship programme been beneficial to you and your career?

My apprenticeship has already been beneficial to me in many ways, both professionally and personally. It has taught me so many skills that I apply in my work, and I have met and enjoyed working with so many different people. I feel very lucky that I have found a workplace where I am happy and that I enjoy what I do. It has also helped me to develop outside of work because I have moved away from my parents and learnt to live alone, so I have gained a lot of personal confidence and independence too.

What would you say are the benefits and what advice would you offer to those looking to apply to the OAS apprenticeship programme?

An apprenticeship is a great route for any type of person, whether you know what you would like to do with your career or not. OAS can help to find you to find a workplace with an apprenticeship to suit your interests and that you will enjoy. You’ll learn a huge variety of skills that you’ll use throughout your career, as well as understanding all the principles behind them.

My best advice would be to be open minded when you first start – get to know as many people as you can because you’ll all help and learn from each other throughout your training journey.

What has been your biggest achievement so far during your apprenticeship?

My biggest achievement is how far I’ve come and the improvements I’ve made, both personally and professionally. I’ve gained a whole range of skills, and learnt so many different things, but I’ve also changed from a shy and quiet person into someone who has the confidence to ask questions and speak to new people without worrying! Being asked to work on the FW11 nose box was a particularly big accomplishment because it was a large project for an important customer. Knowing that my manager recognised and trusted my competence was a great feeling.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I enjoy what I do for so many different reasons. The work itself is always interesting and the variety means I’m never bored. The people I work with make every day better, and we always have fun as everyone is great to talk to whilst we’re working. Learning new skills also means that every day is different.

What are your future career plans?

I would love to travel with the team to races – I have always loved the idea of working in different places, and supporting the team to compete would be a dream come true!