My Apprenticeship Journey | Paul and Jack Wright

13th Sep 2023

Father and son, Paul and Jack Wright, both started their careers with Sterling in electrical and instrumentation (E&I).

Paul joined Sterling in 1990 as an Electrical and Instrumentation (E&I) technician at the organisation’s Cramlington, UK site where he was involved in commissioning new plants, including the pilot and waste water treatment plants. This led him on to joining the project department as an E&I Project Engineer in 1995, and during this time, he began an open university degree which he completed in 2000.

In 2005 Paul left Sterling for a role in the oil and gas industry before returning to the business in 2020 as Head of Project and Process Engineering.

Jack joined Sterling in 2019 as an E&I Technician on a degree apprenticeship through Teesside University, the same role his dad started back in 1990. In September 2022, Jack began his Master’s Degree in project management at Teesside University.

How has the industry changed over time?

Paul: It’s changed significantly since I started my apprenticeship, the process control systems were predominantly pneumatic and electronic processes were only just being introduced in the mid to late 80s. I think that Jack will see similar changes to those I witnessed in the 80s, as we move forwards again and into the next phase, which will include the installation of new systems to support full digitisation.

What skillsets are required in the modern industry that perhaps weren’t when Paul did his apprenticeship?

Paul: A greater knowledge and understanding of IT systems is required today. Personal computers weren’t as common when I started back in the 80s. The first personal computer I saw was likely in 1982, whereas now, everyone on site has access to one.

Jack: I did IT at school, so had existing computer literacy skills when I started my apprenticeship and working on plant. This isn’t a skill that my dad had, or even really needed, when starting his career.

How much were you inspired by Paul to become an apprentice and follow in the same industry?

Jack: I was really inspired by how well my dad has done throughout his career, and so this was a big selling point and made me interested in going into this area of the industry too.

How much support were you able to give Jack through his apprenticeship?

Jack: My dad has a lot of experience in the industry, so this has helped me all the way from leaving school and throughout my career, during my apprenticeship, degree and now my master’s. It’s been a massive help when writing assignments or just generally talking through what I’ve learned and how I understand it.

Paul: It’s been a great experience being able to support my son. It’s been easier to do so as we have the same background and are working in the same field and within the same business. Seeing him grow from his apprenticeship to now has been incredibly fulfilling.

Jack, where do you see your career going once you’ve finished your degree?

Jack: I think perhaps a similar path to my dad’s. Hopefully I will go into project management, but because of the range of opportunities available at Sterling, my career could go anywhere really.

What were your favourite parts of your apprenticeships?

Jack: Everything that I learn at university or did learn when I was at college during my degree apprenticeship, I get to put into practice every day within a hands-on environment. It’s easier to grasp the concept of things when you’re able to see it in action and how it’s applied in real life.

Paul: As I progressed through my career, I became more aspirational; wanting to discover the next step. The diversity of the site at Sterling allows for that extra growth and I really enjoyed the range of opportunities I had, getting involved with projects for example, and being able to carry that knowledge I gained throughout my different roles.

Would you recommend doing an apprenticeship and why?

Jack: A lot of people think because you’re on an apprenticeship, you can’t go into higher education, but you certainly can now. Learning on the job and being able to apply what you learn in classes to the real world, is really helpful for your career.

Paul: I would 100 per cent recommend an apprenticeship. The ability to apply the knowledge gained through college or university and the practical skills learnt on the job massively help with development and learning. Some people flourish when they have both the academic and the hands-on learning opportunities that an apprenticeship offers.

The site is so diverse, and even though I stuck with engineering, there is the opportunity to branch out into other areas. You don’t have to strictly follow the path your apprenticeship has started you on and Sterling is incredibly willing to support you on that.

I started as an apprentice, and I’m now part of our Dudley site’s senior leadership team, so it just goes to show the different career paths and possibilities available to you as a Sterling apprentice and the company’s willingness to support your development.

Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of, or starting, an apprenticeship?

Jack: Sterling is a great place to work, especially from an E&I perspective. There’s always lots going on and so lots to be involved with, across different departments too, so there are always opportunities to learn new skills.

Paul: If you are leaning towards STEM subjects, then somewhere like Sterling will stretch and develop your skills, whilst also building upon that love for the industry or work area.

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