By Steve Fairhead, Manufacturing apprenticeship programme lead

We value vocational skills and training – they under-pin everything we do. So we’re hugely proud of one of our apprentices, Tom Andrews, who is set to fly all the way to Kazan, Russia, this summer to represent not just Sonardyne, but the UK in the WorldSkills finals.

Tom is in his last year of a Foundation Degree in Engineering at Alton College while working with us. He is one of just 30 young professionals selected to compete for Team UK at the event, in the capital of Tatarstan, some 800 km east of Moscow.

His place on Team UK, representing the electronics discipline, follows two years of hard work getting through regional and national competitions and team selection events. In fact, earlier this summer he went to Kouvola in Finland, to join other competitors from Russia, Switzerland, Brazil, Singapore and Finland in pre-competition training.

“It’s already been a great experience,” he says, “Not only having the opportunity to travel to these places, but also to meet other young engineers like me and to develop workplace skills and really test and progress my electrical engineering know-how.”

Tom Andrews, Apprentice Engineer, Sonardyne

“Our training in Finland was about running through the types of challenges that will be thrown at us when we get to Kazan in a few weeks’ time. Because it wasn’t the final competition, we got to help each other, and we all enjoyed that interaction. The final will be different, of course, but it’s still going to be quite an experience. I’m looking forward to representing the UK!”

Representing the UK on the world stage is a great opportunity for Tom and us. We support skills training here at Sonardyne and this bi-annual competition, which has origins dating back to post-war Europe, couldn’t be a better way to showcase that.

A track record

In fact, we’ve been represented before. Now a junior engineer, Tua Yenwattana competed at WorldSkills in 2014. Tua studied electrical and electronics engineering at Basingstoke College of Technology and won apprentice of the year in his fourth year there. He’s now working in our engineering department, after starting as a repair apprentice, then moving into systems test. Dan Hinsley, another of our apprentices who is now a junior engineer, studied at Basingstoke College at the same time as Tua. Dan also won apprentice of the year – three years in a row!

Our apprentices today – Tom included – are working towards qualifications including Higher National Certificates (HNC), NVQ extended diplomas and foundation degrees at Basingstoke College, Farnborough College of Technology and Alton College.

Getting on the career ladder

James Kinsey, Jimmy Page & Josh Hall

Taking an apprenticeship is a great first step on the career ladder. In fact, I was Sonardyne’s very first apprentice and now lead our manufacturing apprenticeship programme as well as running our repair department. I have two apprentices under my wings at the moment, Fraser Sanford and Howard Old, who are both working towards a HNC in electronics and a Level 3 NVQ extended diploma in electrical and electronic engineering. Once qualified, they will be starting their careers as repair technicians. 

In our engineering team, last year saw three now former apprentices – James Kinsey, Jimmy Page and Josh Hall – graduate with First Class Bachelor degrees (with honours) in Embedded Electronics. They had studied for a Foundation Degree in engineering at Alton College before spending a year at the University of Portsmouth. Another three apprentices are now currently working on their Foundation Degrees.

Supporting engineering education

The Sonardyne Centre at Alton College

But as well as supporting our apprentices, we’re also proud of the support we offer to colleges and universities. For example, through The Sonardyne Foundation, we supported the building of Alton College with a substantial grant which enabled them to complete their engineering and design technology building, named the Sonardyne Centre when it opened in 2013.

Sonardyne has had a long relationship with Bristol University, where our founder John Partridge studied. We’ve helped to support the university’s schools outreach programme and equipped a new electrical teaching laboratory in the Faculty of Engineering.

Tom and Steve

Most recently, we’ve pledged £20,000 to Newcastle University to help set up the Newcastle University Sonardyne Robotics and Autonomous Systems Student Laboratory. This will support student activities, from the school of engineering and beyond, on the design of underwater vehicles. We’ve also been supporting a three-year programme of Masterclasses in Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science at the Royal Institution for children around the South East of England.

WorldSkills is a biennial event, dubbed the ‘Skills Olympics’. This year’s event is due to be held on August 22-27. Tom will join young professionals from more than 60 countries across the world competing in 56 disciplines, from sectors including engineering, hospitality, construction, IT and more.

The event will be broadcast live on TV and streamed around the world and we’ll be watching to see if Team UK can beat the 10th place that it achieved at the last WorldSkills finals in Abu Dhabi in 2017. We’ll also of course be rooting for Tom!