Meet our Alumni: Degree apprentice at BP, Tom Spires

Nineteen-year-old Tom Spires graduated from UTC Sheffield City Centre in 2017 and walked straight into a degree apprenticeship with BP. In his role as a Junior Electro Technical Officer with BP, Tom spends most of the year travelling the world in-between periods of study at University of Newcastle.

Tell us about your time at UTC Sheffield, why did you join?

I moved to the UTC for sixth form because my school in Doncaster only did A Levels and no technical qualifications. I wanted to do engineering and learn practical engineering as well as theory. It was brilliant. The facilities were great, the teaching was good. When I got up in the morning I was looking forward to going each day.

Did you have any standout moments at the UTC?

I competed with other students from the UTC in a WorldSkills UK national engineering competition. I won a silver medal in mechatronics, which includes a combination of different types of engineering such as robotics, electronics, and control engineering.

What was it like starting your apprenticeship at BP?

There was a steep learning curve. I’m a Junior Electro Technical Officer on the cadet training programme with BP, working mainly on board ship. On my ship there are 28 crew members in all, including officers and ratings. I was thrown in the deep end with quite a lot of responsibility from the outset.

What sort of places have you visited so far?

On my first voyage, I joined the ship at Melbourne then we sailed to Singapore, through the Suez Canal up to the Mediterranean. Then we went to Rotterdam where we stayed for a while before going on to West Africa carrying liquid natural gas to power stations in Nigeria.

What do you do day to day?

I have morning and afternoon rounds, checking machinery and systems. Throughout the day I work on any faults – things are prioritised so I know what to fix first. Preventative maintenance is a big part of what I do, working on the computer systems. When we come to a port, the engineering staff are put on standby because our ship is so big that we often can’t anchor at the port itself so we have to do transfers via another ship coming out to us.

What do you like best about your job?

The variety is great. I do anything electrical or electronic. The days go very quickly. I also enjoy the sense of responsibility. When something is broken, I’m the person who is expected to fix it. People trust me and that’s a great feeling.

Do you get to see the places you visit when you’re at sea?

When we’re at a port, we usually get a few hours to look round. I had quite a bit of time in Singapore and also had some time off in Los Palmas, which was nice.

What is a degree apprenticeship?

It’s a mixture of working and studying at university. I’m doing a degree in electrical and electronic engineering at University of Newcastle. I study alongside regular undergraduates for some of the time, but I find there’s a big difference because the practical scenarios I’ve worked in help my understanding.

Why did you choose a degree apprenticeship rather than just go to university?

I like the fact that I’ve got a job already. It means I’m earning whilst I’m studying. I also get a lot more practical experience, working in a real industry environment. It actually helps with my engineering degree.

Why did you choose engineering for a career?

I think it’s one of the best careers you can pick. You learn a great skillset that will set you up for employment, a decent standard of living and job satisfaction. With a STEM degree in science, technology, engineering or maths, you can apply your skills across many different sectors.

What is your ambition?

I want to stay on at BP and work my way up to become an Electrical Superintendent. I’d like to work on design for some of the new builds.

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