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This woman swapped university for an apprenticeship and it changed her life

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Marissa Francis started at university but something was not quite right! She wanted to be an engineer and learn the skills in practice, not in theory.

Marissa FrancisNow 24 Marissa is an Apprentice Engineer for ABM living in Lewisham. Despite the pressure to finish university she took the difficult decision to change her path.

We asked her about her experience of leaving uni for an apprenticeship.

Why did you decide to do an apprenticeship?

It all started at school when I did an engineering course as a GSCE option and I absolutely loved it. The advice I got for the next step was to study mechanical engineering at college, because it’s a broad course that means you can get a taste of everything and then decide what to specialise in. I just loved everything to do with it!The creativity of getting things to work and the science behind it all is amazing. People don’t realise how much effort goes into what looks so simple. 

From there, I found it difficult. I wanted to get hands-on experience but there was a lot of pressure to go to university and it was difficult to get advice and information on apprenticeships. I applied to university and was accepted to study electronics. I finished the first year, but it just felt wrong to be sitting in a lecture hall when I really wanted to be learning on the job. So I took a risk and left.

The day after attending acareers event,I was contacted by Women in Engineering about an apprenticeship available at Westway Services (now part of ABM UK). And that was that! I started as an apprentice engineer soon after that, and it was exactly what I wanted.

Have you faced any specific challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them? 

Finding an apprenticeship was the challenge! Unless you have people around you in the industry it’s hard to know who to go to and how to get into it. I think it used to be that parents passed down their trade to their children, but I didn’t know where to start.

The other challenge for me has been making sure I can give as much as possible to my course at the same time as looking after my daughter, who is four. Day to day it’s a bit of a juggle, but when she’s sick or something, it can be difficult. My mum used to help me a lot, but she recently passed away so things have got a little bit more difficult – but ABM UK is very supportive and I’m even more determined to finish my course in May 2017 and start my career.

Have you ever had a mentor or a sponsor, or anyone who has helped your career? 

Yeah, all apprentices at ABM have a mentor. Justine, my mentor, was appointed to me two years ago. We meet up regularly, but she’s always on the end of the phone for advice, any time. I think mentors are really important.

If you were to look back five years, what would you see in terms of your achievements? 

That I’ve managed to get to the end! People weren’t sure I’d be able to handle everything because I have a child and I left University, but I’ve done it. I wanted to learn every day and leave my apprenticeship having done my best!

I’ve been nominated for an Apprenticeship of the Year award this year, which I’m proud of, and it demonstrates how hard I’ve worked and how much the business has supported me. I hope I win!

Tell us about your plans for the future?

I just want my future self to learn as much as possible, gather as much experience as I can and put myself in different scenarios. I just want to keep building on myself.

What does a typical day involve? 

Every single day is different. I am currently in a retail store in Stratford, so my day can vary from unblocking the toilets to checking lighting to maintaining water outlets that aren’t used frequently. I shadow a colleague so could be fixing a broken handle one minute, but then learning to clean heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) unit filters the next. It’s really varied.

What kind of qualities do you need to be an apprentice?

You need to be open minded and able to listen. You also need to be confident enough ask questions and find out why people are doing certain things, so you understand the process from end to end. I also think that you need to be very motivated and like the fact that things change quickly and you have to adapt.

What are the best and most challenging things about the job?

The best thing is learning something new every day. The challenge is keeping up-to-date with weekly reports which all apprentices have to do to track what you’ve done and learnt. It’s tough to keep on top of that and work a full day, but it’s worth it.

Why would you recommend an apprenticeship to others? What are the benefits?

When it comes to practical jobs like engineering, you need hands-on, onsite experience and skill. There is nothing better than learning on the job; you learn so much more quickly. I found it hard sitting in a lecture hall trying to imagine the environment I might be in.

You are also more supported as an apprentice compared to traditional routes. You form close relationships with the people you work with and they’re there for you, whatever you need.

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