It takes a brave person to admit that something isn’t right for them and, for teenagers in particular, it’s often easier to just stick with it, even if it makes you unhappy. For Rebecca McAllister, swapping paintbrushes for pliers and English for engineering has proved not only a brave decision, but the right decision.
With no clear vision of what she wanted to do beyond her GCSEs, Rebecca just went along with what most of her peers were doing and she continued on to sixth form and started A Levels in English and art. Despite her passion for art, Rebecca couldn’t see this being the career for her, and after finishing Year 12 – and after several tearful conversations with her tutor – Rebecca did what so many adults are unable to do and admitted this wasn’t what she wanted. After coming to a decision to leave Tor Bridge, Rebecca was faced with another gruelling question: what now?
Rebecca said: “I think I considered almost everything, from studying to become a make-up artist, to joining the RAF as a firefighter. Recognising that I had literally no idea what I was going to do with my life, my nan insisted on us both attending an open day at City College.
“The idea of an Apprenticeship I found really appealing. I wanted to get out of the school environment, yet I still recognised the importance of continuing my education in some form. Whilst at the open day, I must have visited nearly every stand, but I found myself drawn to the engineering Apprenticeships. There were two companies that stood out to me: with the deadline for applications just a few days away, it was now or face waiting a few more months to get going, so I went for it. I probably have my nan to thank: it was her who initially suggested engineering after hinting hair and beauty probably wasn’t for me – she knows me so well.”
Rebecca was offered an Apprenticeship with Plessey Semiconductors, and she has since completed a level 2 Apprenticeship in Performing Engineering Operations and an Advanced Apprenticeship in Engineering Maintenance. As part of her Apprenticeships, Rebecca has completed an Extended Diploma in Engineering, which has allowed her to go on to study a university-level course at the College.
Making the switch from arts to engineering meant taking on subjects that weren’t her natural strengths, and Rebecca admits it has been a challenge. But not one to shy away from hard work, Rebecca has received pleasing marks throughout her studies and was even singled out at the 2020 Plymouth Manufacturers’ Group Apprentice of the Year Awards when she was named the winner of the Rising Star Award. Soon after winning the award, Rebecca was featured as one of the city’s top 50 women in industry by Plymouth Live.
“It’s been a learning curve: I haven’t found it easy, but I’ve been pleased with my progress and that satisfaction keeps me motivated. Since joining Plessey, I’ve joined the Process Engineering team, which is more data collection and analysis of tests rather than the fixing of equipment. I can now say that at 21, I have been able to contribute to processes with the aim of them being used in future technologies for Facebook’s augmented reality glasses. That’s not something I would have believed if someone had told me five years ago.
“It didn’t really occur to me before just how many opportunities there are within engineering. I’ve been involved with some outreach projects, working with school-leavers and other young people to give them information about engineering and alternative routes to university. I don’t know how many I’ve encouraged to follow a similar route, but if I’ve helped even just one person, that makes me smile.
“If, like me, you are fortunate to have an employer who encourages you to study and become as qualified as you possibly can, I would really advise you take that opportunity as it isn’t offered everywhere, and I’ve learnt things I would never have imagined by taking up an Apprenticeship.”