In this Insider Update, we hear from George Johnson who recently completed his Plant Maintenance Technician apprenticeship with Bachy Soletanche. George tells us about the challenges and triumphs of his career so far, his secret to success and what it’s like to mentor other apprentices.

Insights - Graduates and Apprentices - George Johnson, Apprentice Plant Mechanic (thumbnail)

Tell us more about your team and what your role involves.

In my immediate team there are 13 fitters, four electricians and seven apprentices. In a nutshell, my role involves repairing and maintaining all of our plant and machinery, making sure everything is fit for purpose and fixing any faults that arise to prevent future breakdowns. This involves servicing, pre-inspection and fault finding (both electrical and hydraulic).

What inspired you to do an apprenticeship?

At school, I always preferred the practical part of learning to the theory – revision and written exams were never my forte. I always knew I wanted a hands-on type of job, so I did a BTEC in mechanical engineering, as mechanics was an interest of mine and it meant I could avoid doing a lot of exams but still get a qualification. I then chose an apprenticeship as although all my friends were going to university, I wanted to earn and learn. I thought an apprenticeship would give me a head start in my career and I’m happy with decision I made, I’d recommend an apprenticeship to anyone.

You were studying an agricultural course based on completely different machinery than that which you were using at Bachy Soletanche, how did you deal with this?

At first, I felt a bit disadvantaged as I was the only one in my class working for a ground engineering company – most of the other students were working for companies in the agricultural industry so they were familiar with the machinery we were learning about in college. When it came to the practical lessons, 90% of them had already used the machinery at work.

However, I soon realised that the principles of mechanics are the same across all industries and you can apply them to any machine. This experience also helped when it came to working at Bachy Soletanche as we have such a diverse fleet of plant that’s always changing – there’ll always be something new but if you understand the principles and methods of plant maintenance then you’ll be fine.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve gained from your apprenticeship?

The hands-on experience I’ve gained has been invaluable. From attending multiple breakdowns and shadowing my team around the yard and on site, I’ve built up so much knowledge that helps me in my role now and allows me to work more efficiently and with more confidence. I’ve reached a place where I feel I have a strong understanding of what I’m doing and can work independently most of the time.

Insider Update George Johnson - Working on Hydrofraise rig

Rig maintenance at the Bachy Soletanche Plant Yard

Insider Update George Johnson - CPA Stars Of The Future Award

CPA Stars Of The Future Award 2023

What do you think has been the key to your success as an apprentice?

My work ethic. I’ve always tried to do as much as I can, whenever I can. I like to be proactive and busy, which suits this role well. My manager, Brian, has also played a huge part in my success. He was a great mentor and held me to high standards.  When HS2 started and I was early on in my apprenticeship, I got asked to assist on site because Brian had advocated for me. He knew that I had the right attitude and was willing to apply myself.

What has been a challenging aspect of your apprenticeship?

Each day is a new challenge as it’s such a varied role and you rarely encounter the same situation twice. This requires a lot of thinking on your feet and problem solving. Often, things don’t go how you expect them to so you have to come up with different solutions.

And the most rewarding aspect?

Winning the CPA (Construction Plant-hire Association) Stars of the Future Award was one of the most rewarding moments. I achieved ‘Highly Commended Plant Mechanic of the Northwest 2021’ and was the only apprentice from my college to be nominated. I was surprised to win because at college I didn’t always know the answer to the teacher’s questions and felt there were others more knowledgeable than me – but I was recognised for my efforts and attitude to work. Another major achievement was winning the FPS (Federation of Piling Specialists) Site Apprentice Award this year, which Brian put me forward for.

Out of all the projects you’ve worked on, which one has been your favourite?

HS2 has been my favourite as it’s the longest I’ve stayed on a project – I did a year and a half at Old Oak Common – so you get to know the people and we had a great team. I particularly enjoyed working alongside the Chief Mechanic, Chris Cochrane, who taught me a lot of the electrical and hydraulic side of the job, including how to find faults. When Old Oak Common finished, I started working across our HS2 sites in the West Midlands, which was great as I met so many new people through the joint venture and made lots of friends.

HS2 has been very different to all the other jobs I’ve worked on as there are so many different techniques and machines used.

HS2 Old Oak Common Site Aerial Photo

HS2 Old Oak Common

You’re now acting as a mentor to new apprentices, how does that feel?

Having been in their shoes, I can use my experience to help them and tell them what to expect as an apprentice. It’s nice to see them grow in confidence and become more comfortable as time goes on. I encourage them to complete extra training and take on more complex jobs, like I did, so that they can gain more independence.

What are your plans now you’ve completed your apprenticeship?

I’d like to get some experience working abroad within the group, ideally within the next five years. It would be great to learn from other companies around the world, see what machines they’re using and how they’re operating, and bring that knowledge back to the UK so we can continue to develop. It would also mean that I can share our ways of working with the wider group. Additionally, it would allow me to meet other people and experience different cultures.

Any advice for aspiring apprentices?

Work hard and go the extra mile – you can’t get by just doing the bare minimum. Especially now our apprentice team is growing, you need to do more to stand out. Aim to raise the bar and win industry awards, which is beneficial not just for you but for the company, too.

Insider Update George Johnson Apprenticeship certificate

George awards Apprenticeship Certificate by Lancashire MP

George Johnson FPS Apprentice Award

FPS Site Apprentice Award Winner 2023

Related Insights…