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In Conversation with a SOA Apprentice

It’s always great to hear how our apprentices are getting along, and this week we sat down with Fraser, 17, from Glasgow, who started his 18-month apprenticeship with School of Automation (SOA) in August 2020, to chat about all things robotic and why he chose to embark on this path…

Firstly, what sparked your interest in robotics?

I first started taking an interest when I was about 14/15 yrs old and the more I looked into it the more interesting it seemed. I ended up working on a project with a couple of my friends to make a robotic car to go under the floor of a laser company to scope about for any issues. It was great to have an opportunity to have a brief, work with a team and come up with the solution to put into practice.

Right now, outside of work I have a robotic jellyfish in the works – I am just trying to work out how best to put it into action. I want it to be able to swim, and be controlled by your phone. I get inspiration from Youtubers like Michael Reeves and Colin Furze – they have some really interesting projects!

How did you hear about the SOA apprenticeship?

I actually heard about it from one of my teachers who knew that I had been interested in robotics and engineering for a while. When I saw the apprenticeship name was ‘Robotic Process Automation’ I signed up from there as I thought it looked interesting.

I had never really considered software robotics before looking at this course, but when I saw the video on the SOA website with the bots in action, I thought that it looked really cool.

What made you decide to take the apprenticeship route?

I had mostly been looking at universities as there weren’t too many apprenticeships out there that I was interested in (robotics engineering), but when the apprenticeship came up, I realised it was really unique. I don’t think there are any courses quite like it teaching what SOA teaches.

I think university is really good for socialising and great for learning, but I think in terms of learning for me, doing things practically is the way I have learnt best, instead of reading and writing as much. I have always learnt best by ‘doing’, which is what the apprenticeship gives you the chance to do; you can go on a project with a client and get the experience, plus you are learning as you go on the actual course. At the stage I am at, I think I have learnt a lot that I wouldn’t have at university in a shorter space of time and I have the client experience as well.

How have you found the course so far?

For the first 10 weeks it was almost entirely focused on development skills, but we have been going through general skills as well – presentations, tech, health & safety – Skills that are transferable which can be used in any sector.

I can see that from when I started the course, I am far better at interreacting with clients and doing the development work as well. I have also got significantly better at working in a team as well. What surprised me most was how openly clients have accepted me given I am only 17 yrs old and on an apprenticeship. I have not been treated any differently to someone with more experience which has been really good and helped me perform better.

How have you coped with working and learning remotely with Covid?

Just now I am working on a process that has three parts – I am working on the first and third part and my colleague is working on the middle section and there’s a lot of coordination to try and get that to all come together. Although she is down in London and I am in Glasgow we work together a lot online be that chat or video, and it works well.

When it comes to support, I can always go to the rest of the students on the apprenticeship with me, the people on my project team and pretty much anyone I know at SOA or ABP – they are always willing to help.

What advice would you give to people leaving school?

I wouldn’t say any one path is for everyone, I wouldn’t say university is for everyone. I’d say look at where you want to go and if you don’t know that yet, look at your hobbies and what you enjoy and work your way back from there.

And what are you looking to do in the future?

I am not 100% sure what path I am going to go for, but I am thinking I will probably head to university after the 18 months – partly for the social aspect and partly for the course. I am thinking of something engineering based as that was my other interest.

Finally, what do you think the future of RPA is?

I think there is a lot of future in RPA - it is basically the way forward. It’s an investment to get RPA in the first place, but given the research I have done on how much time it saves per process, it’s very much worth that investment.

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