In the latest interview with RACHP Eng Tech “Trailblazer” apprentices, the IOR talked to the winner of the Gold Medal for Student of the Year, Gemma Dormer. Gemma is a Trainee Service Engineer at J&E Hall and is studying at Eastleigh College.

Gemma has been working in the RACHP industry for just over four years now and is already making a big impact in the sector. She has been recognised as a finalist in several industry student competitions and said she was “over the moon” to get the top prize at the IOR RAC Cooling Industry Awards earlier this year.

As a trainee service engineer at J&E Hall, she is learning more about industrial systems and manufacturing. She has already seen that they offer excellent career development and training opportunities, which is very important for her.  “Moving from an employer that was focused on commercial equipment into industrial has been a massive big change. It's like learning a completely different job.  I have been so impressed with the people I am working with at J&E Hall, between them they have so much knowledge and experience.  I’m learning loads and I know my career is moving forward”.

Being able to apply the knowledge she gained at college has been particularly valuable for her. Areas such as install and electrical work made more sense once she was able to get out on site.  “Studying at college has given me so much more confidence when I approach a job.  It means I can take a step back and think about what is required.”  She is now doing a wide variety of site-based work including service, maintenance and installation, in sites ranging from food production factories to HVAC manufacturing.

“I enjoyed learning the fundamentals at college, commercial, air conditioning and industrial refrigeration. Doing the apprenticeship has given me the opportunity to meet people from all different backgrounds and share our experiences of working in different organisations. One of my favourite things about the college part of my training has been meeting other people in the same profession, learning and progressing together and supporting each other as our careers develop. The training has given me the fundamentals I need that will allow my career to develop further in the future as I gain more experience.”

As someone who has completed their apprenticeship studies and qualifications and is now just waiting to take her end point final exams, I asked Gemma what advice she would give to apprentices who might be starting out or part-way through their course and struggling a bit. “Don’t give up and take every opportunity that comes to you. Every training opportunity will pay off, and all your hard work will pay off. I was lucky - my employer is really involved and paired me with a mentor.  Remember there are lots of good employers who will support you and good jobs for a qualified engineer.”

Gemma herself is keen to give back to the industry that has supported and recognised her enthusiasm and hard work. She is interested in mentoring new people coming into the industry, those just starting out and advice on how to progress their careers from someone working at a similar level.  She is also keen to raise awareness of the support needed to address mental health issues at work and get people talking more about their own mental health challenges so that they know where to go for practical help.

Finally, talking about winning the Gold Award she was very grateful to everyone who has helped her get here.  “I was short-listed twice for this award and this time, on my third attempt I won it! I saw it as a challenge and just kept thinking, each year I am improving, each year I am learning and doing more. And this year it paid off!  It’s important to get involved in the industry groups like IOR, put yourself out there, and show you are willing to go the extra mile as a student and in your work.   Awards like this should encourage all students to keep trying harder”. 

Read the interview in the January issue of RAC Magazine.