In the light of the apprenticeship levy introduction today, HRreview interviewed Claire Berrett, a British Gas qualified engineer and British Gas Apprentice of the Year 2016 on her views on apprenticeships and how her experience helped her to learn new skills.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I’m 38 and from Bournemouth, and completed my apprenticeship with British Gas in 2015, during which I achieved my Level 3 domestic gas qualification. My role as a fully qualified engineer sees me visit homes across Bournemouth and Poole where I service and repair boilers.

Prior to becoming a British Gas engineer, I spent twenty years working in retail.

 Why did you choose an apprenticeship?

My dad was an engineer, and as a teenager I had set my heart on following in his footsteps after leaving school. However, whilst applying to join the Royal Navy as a trainee engineer, I discovered that my eyesight was not up to the application standard and had to withdraw.

Despite exhaustive searching, I didn’t find an opportunity in engineering that was right for me and instead embarked on what was to become a 20-year career on the high street.

It was only when I was made redundant that I thought the time was right to rekindle my childhood dream of becoming an engineer.

 Why did you choose an apprenticeship over a degree?

An apprenticeship was the right path for me as I had already spent 20 years working in retail. At the time, I looked at jobs with large employers and spotted the British Gas apprenticeship. I never dreamt they’d accept me at my age, but they did and I couldn’t believe it!

 What was the recruitment process like?

The recruitment process was easy to follow and professional.  There was information available at every stage, which was extremely useful and gave me confidence in British Gas.  I knew that having a robust process meant that I was joining a professional company.

 Did the apprenticeship best meet your expectations?

The facilities at the academy were amazing and the support I received from managers and my mentor made the process really enjoyable and rewarding.

 How did the apprenticeship best prepare you for the world of work?

The training that I received during my apprenticeship combined theory, practical skills and customer service training. As an apprentice, I was trained to fully understand the safest and most effective ways to do the job.

Being able to speak to customers and build a rapport is just as important as being able to fix a boiler, so the customer service aspect of the training was crucial and instils confidence when going into people’s homes.

 What skills did you see improve the most during your apprenticeship?

Prior to my apprenticeship I had no technical skills, so this is the area that improved most. Another skill that improved was my ability to communicate effectively with people from different backgrounds and ages. This is a crucial skill as our customers are diverse and it’s important for engineers to communicate effectively with a range of people.

 Is employer support important to you?

This is very important to me and one of the reasons why I looked at British Gas. Having worked for large companies in the past, I know they have the infrastructure to be able to support and develop their employees.

 To what extent was the HR team involved with your life as an apprentice?

The HR team was not involved on a day-to-day basis, as each of our Learning Hubs has a Learning and Development team to support apprentices. I also had a mentor throughout my apprenticeship. Although I did not have day-to-day contact with the HR team, there was a clear process and channels for contacting them if needed, and the Learning and Development teams are aligned with the company’s HR function.

 How did it feel to win the apprentice of the year award?

To be honest I am still in shock! I was over the moon to gain a place on the apprenticeship programme and at no point did I think I would ever win this award. I trained with excellent colleagues and it is an honour to be recognised in this way.

What do you think about the introduction of the apprenticeship levy this month?

My apprenticeship was a fantastic experience and has provided me with a rewarding career. Centrica, the owner of British Gas, has embraced the Government’s ambition to create more quality apprenticeships.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting an apprenticeship?

I would encourage anyone of any age to look at an apprenticeship as a great way to get skills for life and to build a rewarding career.