As Chancellor George Osborne used his Autumn Statement to announce a new apprenticeship levy to fund three million future apprenticeships, one Windsor teenager knows only too well the value of joining a training scheme instead of heading to university.
Eighteen-year-old Mitchell Redworth is an operations apprentice at the Lakeside Energy from Waste (EfW) facility at Colnbrook, near Slough.
He started his career in the power industry straight after leaving Windsor Boys School with three A levels and, in four years, should qualify with a BTec in mechanical engineering and an NVQ in Power Plant Operations Level 3.
“I had already been offered a place at Buckinghamshire New University to study product design but for me, university was more of a last resort in case I didn’t get a good apprenticeship,” said Mitch.
“One of my teachers suggested applying for the Lakeside apprenticeship and the more I found out, the more it appealed.
“With changes in the environment, such as global warming, cleaner energy and recycling are going to become more important in the future. Knowing that I’m involved in that process and have a career ahead of me in the power industry made it a very attractive option.”
He continued: “I’d certainly recommend an apprenticeship as a good career path. I’m already earning money, as opposed to my friends at university who are heading towards debt, and at the same time I’m getting practical, on-the-job experience which will stand me in good stead for the future.”
The Lakeside Energy from Waste facility is a joint venture between Grundon Waste Management and Viridor, and Mitch says although he was aware of the plant, he had little idea what it did.
Since joining in August, he has spent three months in the fuel reception area and provided support during the annual maintenance shutdown. Mitch is now based on the operations desk, a role he hopes to continue as a process technician once he is fully qualified.
Opportunities at Lakeside
Using the latest technology, Lakeside processes residual waste, material which cannot be recycled or recovered, generating 37MW of electricity. When exported to the National Grid, this is enough to power approximately 50,000 homes, equivalent to the residential requirements of a town the size of Slough.
Lakeside already provides employment for around 50 local people and director of operations, Danny Coulston, says: “Every year we take on a new apprentice as we believe it’s important to offer training opportunities for the next generation of power workers.
“It’s not always easy to recruit apprentices into this sector as many young people prefer to go into technology, rather than manufacturing or industry. We asked local schools to put forward their candidates for interview and Mitch came out on top, so we were very happy to offer him an apprenticeship.”
As part of his qualification, Mitch also studies at the E.ON Engineering Academy near Nottingham, which offers accredited modern apprenticeship programmes for the power sector.
“There’s a lot to understand in terms of the processes and documentation but everyone at Lakeside is very nice, friendly and helpful,” he concluded. “There’s a great team spirit and everyone supports everyone else, so it’s a great place to work and hopefully I’ll be here for a long time to come.”
He says there is just one small downside to being an apprentice – when he meets up with his pals from university, he’s the one buying the drinks.