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Network Engineering: A Degree Apprentice’s Experience

Boulting have several STEM apprentices who are studying for technical degrees, while working on real infrastructure projects. Degree apprentice, Joel Collins, is approaching twelve months into the process with Stafford University and Boulting Technology. We asked what his first year has involved

Joel started as an Apprentice Network Engineer with Boulting last September when he began learning the basics in Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) and Human Machine Interface (HMI) programming. He spent three months at our Penketh premises to see what was involved in a project from start to finish. This included 'wiring panels on the shop floor, updating pricing with the estimating team, using AutoCAD to complete snags of electrical drawings and testing panels with the test engineers'.

In January, Joel started his first project, developing the SCADA for the water supply of Sanday in Scotland. This involved converting the current and old Sanday SCADA to the newest version, following new frameworks from Scottish Water:

‘I did a lot of learning on the job, like how to effectively use WinCC (Siemens Software used to create the SCADA), all the different components that are involved and needed, along with the PLC code.. I found it really rewarding to see my work on the SCADA operate successfully in testing and completion. I’m really looking forward to going to Sanday to see it working on-site!'

Meanwhile, at University, Joel started his BSc degree in Digital & Technology Solutions, his first three modules being in Cyber Security, Network Fundamentals and Hardware. He completed these modules by May gaining two Distinctions and one Merit. He is now working through his next three modules in Business Analysis, Data and Databases and Primary Research.

Joel commented: ‘This Degree Apprenticeship Scheme has been full of opportunities for me, working amongst differently experienced people in the industry and constantly learning at work, gaining various accreditations and completing my degree.’ (Joel has weekly online lectures with a day each week dedicated to University work).

We asked Joel if anything about this first year with us had surprised him:

‘One thing to mention is how helpful and supportive all the other engineers are in the office and their willingness to take time out of their day to support me so that I can progress further on my project.

The Pandemic was not expected, of course, but I was supported by the flexible working practices and the safety measures implemented for the times when we had to physically test our work. What was surprising to me was how quickly everyone adjusted.’