College began at a very weird time in September 2020. Most of us had not stepped into a classroom for nearly 6 months due to the pandemic and returning to education proved more difficult than I had anticipated. Wearing masks and social distancing while trying to meet new people was challenging, and then of course there was another lockdown in January 2021.

Despite getting off to an unavoidably rocky start, I noticed a major difference in myself by the time I left two years later – I’d learnt to become a lot more independent both academically and personally. Even little things like the ratio of formal lessons to independent study helped give me the courage to move away from home at 18 and begin a full-time apprenticeship living on my own.

Becoming an engineer was not always the aim. Originally, I wanted to join the Armed Forces as a fighter pilot, but with the impact of the pandemic globally, this did not go my way. College staff helped me to look at alternative career paths and at what I was interested in. Learning to drive at 17 in first year of college had a major impact on my life – my interest in cars increased dramatically once I had the freedom to drive. I realised that the automotive industry was one I would like to pursue, and College continually supported my goal.

I was always under the impression that I either go to university or that’s it. But this could not be further from the truth. There are so many opportunities out there to grasp and build a future with. It is, however, imperative to take your time and decide what is right for you. Focus on what you are interested in and what catches your attention.

I am currently studying towards a Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Mechanical Engineering which will roll onto a Higher National Diploma (HND) after a further year of study. After this, I want to stay on at UTAC while studying part-time for a further year to get a Degree.

As a Mechanical Engineer Apprentice with UTAC Special Vehicles, I’ve been involved in numerous projects and have developed a multitude of skills in the office, the workshop and on our 70km of car test-tracks. I work alongside experienced engineers and technicians to develop enhanced capabilities for cars, such as in-built protection for armoured vehicles and reduced emissions. I’ve gained skills in Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacture (CAM) software’s including modelling, technical drawing and prototyping through 3D printers.

I’ve been exposed to so many incredible opportunities and experiences. Whether travelling across the UK for work-related training and vehicle testing, or attending major invite-only automotive industry events, I’ve gained critical work (and life!) experience.

At the end of the day, if you begin something and find out it is not for you, there is always the option to re-start. Many students, including my friends, took a gap year because they were unsure of what to do and some amazing opportunities have come around for them, just because they took their time. So I’d say slow down, do your research and have some time to yourself to look at all the possible opportunities open to you.

Jack Nelson

Reigate College: 2020-2022

Higher Education: Currently studying HNC/HND Mechanical Engineering, University of Northampton at Bedford College. Planning further study to achieve a Degree Apprenticeship.

Currently: Mechanical Engineering Apprentice with UTAC Special Vehicles.

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