23 July 2019

Day in the life: Leeds woman employed by Agfa Graphics believes Yorkshire’s engineering sector has a bright future

Eleanor McGuire - Agfa Graphics apprentice

Photo: Agfa Graphics apprentice, Eleanor McGuire

Agfa Graphics apprentice Eleanor McGuire is finding the hands-on route to an engineering career a rewarding experience.

Engineering might not have always been the most obvious career choice for a 21-year-old woman but times, and attitudes, are definitely changing and my friends aren’t surprised that I’m doing a job like this.

I’m too energetic to be sitting behind a desk all day and I’ve got the kind of brain that can solve problems quite easily, and look at things from different perspectives to most people, which is really useful in this role.

I was attracted to Agfa Graphics, which is a global supplier to the printing and graphics industry, because I knew it was a big company with an international reputation, and it’s right here in Leeds.

I applied for the apprenticeship last year after realising that I didn’t want to go to university. I’d mainly done catering jobs previously, but had always really wanted to do something in science or engineering.

There wasn’t an opportunity to do that without going to university as far as I could see, but then I looked on the Government’s apprenticeships website, Apprentice.gov, and this job came up. It looked ideal for me: it involved learning on the job in a professional engineering environment, studying for qualifications – and being paid for it all too.

They asked for five GCSEs, including Maths, English and Science, but the main thing that Agfa was looking for was a passion to learn new things and an interest in engineering, which I definitely have.

The apprenticeship started in September last year. It’s very varied and no two days are the same, which also makes it really interesting. I’m based at Agfa, on Coal Road in Leeds, three days a week and spend the other two days at Kirklees College for the part of the apprenticeship that involves studying, sitting exams and gaining relevant qualifications.

I live in Alwoodley and travel to work by bus, which takes around an hour as I have to get one bus into town and then another one to Agfa. I arrive on site in the morning at half seven and start work at eight. I’m often based in the lab for much of the day, which I really like.

Working in the lab is challenging and exciting: I’m trusted to work with dangerous chemicals and have to learn how all the different machines work so that I can do the necessary quality checks. It’s fascinating finding out how all the different titrations work and all the formulas that go behind them.

My role at Agfa is an operator apprentice, so I’m basically a production operator, which can sound like it might be more of a traditional man’s job.

It’s not overly physical though and girls definitely shouldn’t be put off as everyone is treated as equals. Engineering as a whole is suited to both boys and girls who have a brain for problem solving and have the skills to visualise the inner workings of mechanisms, but also like to challenge themselves.

I enjoy working with the wide range of colleagues that I have at Agfa and I probably get on particularly well with a lot of them because we all enjoy the scientific and the practical sides of the job. There are seven of us apprentices at Agfa and, like many other employers, Agfa sometimes struggles to get applicants for the apprenticeships on offer.

This really mystifies me, as I am seeing for myself how an apprenticeship is a fantastic opportunity, and a brilliant way to start a career in something you’re really interested in. People – and maybe schools and colleges – still put way too much emphasis on the value of a university education, which is often seen as superior to workplace-based learning. In fact they are just very different.

As a practical person I enjoy learning while I’m working.

The manufacturing and engineering industries in this country certainly need apprentices. Agfa Graphics is probably fairly typical in the age profile of its workforce: 47 per cent of its staff were over 55 at the start of this year.

When these workers retire we need a new generation of skilled younger people like me to step up and keep the sector alive and thriving.

That’s why Agfa Graphics is taking part in the Leeds Manufacturing Festival. I clock off at four and get the bus home. I’m hoping to work my way up to be team leader eventually and in the short term, once I’ve finished my apprenticeship, I’d definitely like to work here at Agfa. It’s an environment that I find exciting and challenging, every day.

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