Zac describes how he got into engineering and why he’s now helping others break into the industry at WMG.
Zac Parkinson knew he wanted to work in engineering from the age of about 10 years old.
“My grandad took great pride in cars and was really passionate about them,” he explained.
“We were really close, spending lots of weekends together. He would take me to car shows or Coventry Transport Museum, and I’d always be building or fixing things with him.
“I guess I got the bug.”
Now, Zac’s not only living his dream, but helping the next generation follow in his footsteps – all thanks to apprenticeships at WMG.
Exploring the options
In years 10 and 11 at his hometown Kenilworth School, Zac seized an opportunity from WCG (formerly Warwickshire College Group) to take an NVQ Level 2 in Manufacturing.
“It was one day a week over the two years, at Rugby College, and introduced me to operating engineering equipment for the first time,” he said.
“I was using things like manual milling machines at quite a young age – it was great.”
Zac was required to complete 50 days of work experience as part of the qualification.
They only made him even more certain of the type of career he wanted.
“My holidays and half-terms were spent at all kinds of different places,” he said.
“I was at a civil engineering firm for a while and decided that wasn’t for me; it was too desk-based, not hands-on enough.”
But a different placement made far more of an impression – a work experience stint at WMG.
The start of something special
WMG is an academic department at the University of Warwick which brings together academia, the public sector and private enterprise through its research and education programmes
“They gave me exposure to the workshops, all the various projects they had on,” Zac recalled.
“You could see how much innovation there was… I loved it.”
"You could see how much innovation there was… I loved it.”
So much so, in fact, that he took it upon himself to stay there for longer.
“I asked if they had any apprenticeships available,” Zac said.
“It was where I could see myself working, so I had to know.”
Zac was told that although there hadn’t been an apprentice at WMG for 12 years, an opportunity was being created.
“I applied and didn’t look back.”
Stuck in straight away
In 2009, Zac embarked on a four-year Advanced Level 3 Apprenticeship in Engineering.
The first few weeks were, it’s safe to say, a little daunting.
“By this point, I was 17, the only apprentice in the WMG team and comfortably the youngest person there,” he said.
“It was really eye opening. I knew what an amazing opportunity I had, and I wanted to take as much on board as I could.
“I was doing all sorts of things, like programming CNC machines, setting machines for production, machining components, interpreting data.
“I’m the first apprentice here in over a decade’. I was valued and appreciated – I felt special.”
“I remember thinking ‘I’m the first apprentice here in over a decade’. I was valued and appreciated – I felt special.”
Learning while earning
Right from the start, WMG encouraged Zac to keep learning and follow his ambitions.
In 2011, halfway through his apprenticeship, he began a Higher National Certificate in Engineering at WCG to further his subject knowledge.
And five years later, Zac’s education went to the next level, again with WMG’s backing.
“I never saw myself doing university because I did GCSEs but not A-Levels, so that ‘traditional’ route wasn’t there,” he said.
“But WMG offered me the chance to go for a degree in Applied Engineering, a part-time course I could complete alongside my full-time work.”
“WMG offered me the chance to go for a degree in Applied Engineering, a part-time course I could complete alongside my full-time work”
The cost of Zac’s university studies, which will see him graduate with a Bachelor of Engineering degree, were offset by WMG – meaning Zac didn’t have to worry about tuition fees or student debt.
“It’s a four-year programme that I started in 2016, but it’s flexible, so it’s actually paused at the moment,” Zac said.
“I’m busy with my job and really enjoying that, so I don’t have to worry about juggling too much at once.
“There’s no time pressure because I can pick the degree back up and finish it off whenever I like.”
A burgeoning career
Zac has also progressed through the ranks at WMG.
After becoming a technician – a role that saw him manufacture bespoke components for projects such as the Formula Student racing car competition – he applied for a 12-month secondment in workshop management.
“I looked up to the Workshop Manager because he’d shared so much of his experience with me,” Zac said.
“It was a way to test the water, see if it was for me and go back to life as a technician if I preferred.”
Zac has since spent four years as Workshop Manager of WMG’s buildings.
“A lot of buildings were being built, so I had autonomy to get their workshops up and running and define the kind of equipment we needed,” he said.
“The transition was challenging because I’d been working with a great team of technicians, but as a manager I needed them to respect me in a different way.”
The view from the other side
Zac has come a long way since starting his apprenticeship at 17.
It’s a journey he wants to help others take, too.
“I’m responsible for improving the apprenticeships we offer,” Zac explained.
“I’m currently managing eight first-time apprentices, another three on their second apprenticeship, and we’ve just secured another four to join in September.
“It feels natural to give back and provide the chances I benefited from to the next generation”
“It feels natural to give back and provide the chances I benefited from to the next generation.”
But what about Zac’s own future?
“I’m buying a house, so that’s exciting, and I’m very happy at WMG.
“I want to see our apprenticeship blossom into the best programme it can be.
“I’d encourage anyone interested in engineering to look into it.”