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Meet the Trainer – Elliann Edwards

An ex-apprentice herself, Elliann joined the OAS team from industry in March 2020 as a specialist in mechanical engineering. She talked to us about why she’s committed to building supportive apprentice communities, how becoming an OAS trainer is the best career decision she’s ever made, and shared some tips to help prospective apprentices get the very best out of their learning journey.

What was your prior industrial experience before you joined OAS?

I started my career with a Level 3 apprenticeship with Crown Packaging that’s pretty much the same qualification as our learners are undertaking at OAS! After I qualified as a Mechanical Engineering Technician, I specialised further by completing a HNC and HND alongside my day-to-day role. I eventually moved into the Design Team, bringing a more practical engineering focus to complement their creativity.

My manager was incredible throughout my learning journey at Crown and whilst he was obviously sad to lose me from the business, he was absolutely delighted for me when I became a trainer. It’s showed me how important it is to make sure apprentices are well-supported and encouraged by their employers – everything is easier if you’ve got someone in your corner helping you to be your best.

What would you say are your career highlights?

Completing my own apprenticeship and HND qualifications felt like a great achievement, and as part of my studies I made a hoist for a disabled person using a combination of new and repurposed kit from work. The project was fascinating, and I really enjoyed making sure everything was compliant with the appropriate safety standards so that it could really make a positive difference to the person’s daily life. I was also the Freemen of Oxford’s Apprentice of the Year, which I’m particularly proud of because I was competing against a lot of male engineers and beat them all fair and square!

Why did you decide to become a trainer?

I hadn’t ever considered becoming an educator until someone spotted the advert for the trainer position at OAS and shared it because they thought it was literally a description of me! I agreed and immediately realised I’d found my calling. I joke that being a trainer is the dream job that I didn’t know I wanted – I didn’t realise it was possible to enjoy your work as much as I do today. I just love it!

There were also aspects of my own apprenticeship experience that I didn’t enjoy, and so my role has given me an opportunity to make it better for the next generation of learners. I’m committed to making sure all of our apprentices are properly encouraged and supported, and that they’re part of an inclusive and respectful community. We all help each other to fulfil our potential, and that shared experience and camaraderie is so important.

What do you enjoy most about your training role?

Supporting the learners and watching them develop and succeed, both professionally and personally. One of the best things about OAS is that we always put the learner first. If I can’t help someone resolve their challenge straight away, I know that I can ask for more support or extra resources and tools if that’s what the learners need to fulfil their potential.

This learning journey is also a two way street – as a new trainer, I’m studying and learning on-the-job to gain my Assessor qualification as well as my Certification of Education and Training, so the learners are helping my development at the same time as I’m supporting theirs. I’m also very lucky to be supported by more experienced trainers at both OAS and at our training centre in Coventry, the AMTC. The learners gain so much by their trainers having access to so many shared resources, good ideas and best practice – it doubles our teams’ effectiveness and helps us to make sure we’re continually developing and improving for the learners’ benefit.

Finally, our apprentices are the best of the best, and I don’t just mean that they’re smart. Their attitudes and determination are incredible, which makes their capabilities limitless. They’re absolutely inspirational and they don’t even know it.

How is OAS different from other training centres?

Without doubt, OAS is head and shoulders above the other training centres I’ve experienced. I have the same qualification as the learners are pursuing, but the opportunities and flexibilities that they have access to here are very different, they’re huge. In some other training providers, it feels like it’s up to the learners to conform with the system in order to achieve, whereas at OAS we put the learner first and have the appropriate systems and resources in place to make sure they’re supported to succeed. OAS has invested in fantastic facilities, and I’m also empowered to ask for more equipment or materials to improve my learners’ experiences if that’s what they need. The kit we’ve got is top of the range, and helps us to stay at the cutting edge, as well as helping our apprentices to aspire to the same high standards when they return to their employers.

What makes a good apprentice? What qualities do apprentices need to make the most of their opportunities here?

The right attitude is the most important thing an apprentice needs to succeed. Ability is second to attitude. If you’re interested, try your hardest, stay ahead on your work, ask questions and speak up if you need help, then we will make sure that you are supported to succeed.

I’d also say that there’s sometimes a misapprehension that apprenticeships are entirely practical, and that’s not the case. A love of practical engineering is of course essential, but this is an advanced apprenticeship and there’s a lot of technical knowledge that you need to learn in order to make the best of your practical skills, and ultimately to pass the qualification. You must be prepared to balance your love of practical training with studying the theory.

What advice would you give to prospective apprentices?

Be prepared to fully invest yourself in your apprenticeship – the more you put in, the more you’ll get out. Secondly – make friends with your fellow apprentices! You’ll be supporting each other throughout a shared experience and learning from each other along the way, plus your whole apprenticeship is also a great opportunity to network and make a good reputation for yourself within the industry. You never know when your paths will cross again!