Continuing our coverage for National Apprenticeship Week 2023 (#NAW2023), The Manufacturer's James Devonshire recently sat down with Phillip Anthony of DP Engineering to learn more about his journey from apprentice to director.
Unfortunately, manufacturing has a less than glamorous image among younger generations. Even my own childhood memories of visiting my father’s small engineering firm in Somerset are filled with grease, grime and Swarfega (although I seem to remember quite liking the smell of the latter).
And sure, while there are some manufacturing facilities that host their fair share of grease and grime, many others are nothing short of pristine – a reflection of the precision nature of the work they carry out. Indeed, as Phillip Anthony, sales and marketing director at Cornwall-based DP Engineering Ltd, recently told me: “In our industry, if it’s dirty, you’ve made it wrong.” That’s because DP supplies precision parts and components to a wide range of industries, including aerospace and defence, marine/sub-sea, oil and gas, and renewables, to name a few.
I remember when I was getting ready to leave school, there was none of the above. Yet there was the comprehensive UCAS service, which allowed you to pick several higher education establishments and actively helped you secure a place somewhere if your grades weren’t as high as you’d hoped for (like mine).
What I can’t remember is ever hearing from representatives from local manufacturing and engineering firms or attending an open day at a nearby facility. Would such initiatives have changed the path I took? Probably not. The bottom line is they didn’t happen, or at least I don’t remember them, which says a lot about their impact.
If manufacturing is to shake off its dirty image and come across to younger people as an industry in which they can build a successful career, there needs to be more engagement with school children – especially around the topic of apprenticeships. And that engagement should be a mix of literature, factory open days and talks in schools given by people, like Phillip, who are enjoying successful careers having gone down the manufacturing/engineering apprenticeship route.
Hearing about Phillip’s journey was inspirational. I hope by outlining it here we can inspire the engineers of tomorrow.
JD: Tell me about the start of your journey with DP Engineering
I always knew I wanted to go into engineering but didn’t have a clear career path defined. So I took A levels in engineering, product design and IT at Helston Community College, three subjects that seemed as though they complemented one another and would be relevant for my intended career. I then applied to do Mechanical Engineering at a local university while simultaneously checking out what engineering jobs were out there. That’s when I contacted DP, who took a punt and invited me to look around their facility.
At the time, I didn’t have a clue what CNC machining was and nearly didn’t visit DP because I was nervous of the unknown. Nevertheless, I did go along and was lucky enough to subsequently be offered a position by the MD. Ironically, I accepted the offer to become a trainee on the same day I was due to accept my university placement.
I’ve now been at DP for over eight years and have gone from trainee to apprentice to sales and marketing director.
How did your progression start?
So I started off at DP on some of the turning machines, making products for the oil and gas industry. I then moved into the aerospace section, at which point I was making multiple parts for the fuel and hydraulic systems. I was also starting to learn more about our aerospace accreditation, AS 9100, and realised I wanted to get some certifications of my own. That’s when an opportunity to do an apprenticeship course came up.
I was 22 at the time and thought I was too old for an apprenticeship. But I expressed my interest anyway and began a very customised, 18-month course which saw me at DP the majority of the time and one day a week at a local college. I finished the course and obtained an NVQ qualification, after which time I started exploring other areas of the business.
I spent some time focusing on quality, then operations and planning, before moving into the customer-facing area of accounts. I like talking to people so it seemed like a natural route for me to take. After a couple of years, I was offered the sales and marketing director position – a role that I’d never even considered when I started my manufacturing journey.
One of the beauties of manufacturing is the wide range of opportunities that are available, everything from machining and quality control, to customer service, IT and more.
Absolutely! That’s why I’m always keen to work with local schools to get the message out there that manufacturing offers a lot more than most people think – especially those still at school. Younger generations need to know what’s available, so we get that funnel of students coming through to keep this industry alive.
Most school children think of manufacturing as dirty work. But in our industry, if it’s dirty, you’ve made it wrong. Our parts and components are going into planes, oil rigs and medical devices. If they’re dirty, it’s not good. While I wouldn’t advise it, you could eat your lunch off the floor in DP.
That’s why we work closely with local schools to help raise awareness about what’s available in manufacturing and to help change the perceptions many people have.
I was included in Cornwall Chamber of Commerce’s 30 Under 30 2022 and used the publicity to further promote the sector, including highlighting the different roles and routes that are available.
Redruth-based DP Engineering Ltd is a precision engineering company specialising in CNC turning, CNC milling and assembly for a wide range of industries
I assume your shop floor experience and knowledge benefits you in your current role?
I don’t think I could do what I’m doing now without it if I’m honest. I’ve worked in most of the departments in the factory, right down to the stores. In fact, I’d say the most important role I’ve undertaken was our goods in and goods out, just for that awareness of what’s coming in, what’s going out, etc.
I’m by no means a technical expert, but because of my work on the shop floor, I understand the processes and that helps me massively when dealing with customers and coming up with solutions for their needs.
Would you change anything about your manufacturing journey?
If I was to do it all over again, I’d probably choose different A levels, or maybe even consider different options while still doing my GCSEs. That’s because you don’t know what you don’t know, so I chose subjects I thought would be beneficial. And while they absolutely have, different choices may have got me to where I am along a slightly more orthodox route.
What advice do you have for anyone considering an apprenticeship?
My advice for anyone who’s considering an apprenticeship is to go around to local businesses and find out more about what they do. Ask if you can see their facilities, speak with some of the staff and discover the different roles that are available.
We recently helped a local school by holding mock interviews with some of the students. And I encouraged each child that came to my table to come along to DP and see what we do. Because how can you make a decision as important as your career path when you don’t know what’s available?
Businesses in general, not just manufacturers, need to open their doors and give people the opportunity to find out more. And it might be the case that it puts some people off, but at least they won’t have wasted their time pursuing something that wasn’t quite right for them.
When it comes to potential careers, the manufacturing industry has a plethora of opportunities. People just need to know they exist.
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