“You learn a lot more with apprenticeships”

From apprentice to mentor in two years: Fire and security engineer Corrie Stewart of New College Lanarkshire

Editor, IFSEC Global

Author Bio ▼

Adam Bannister was Editor of IFSEC Global from 2014 through to November 2019. Adam is also a former Managing Editor at Dynamis Online Media Group.
September 13, 2018

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Corrie Stewart has achieved a lot in her fledgling career in the fire and security sector.

Beginning an engineering apprenticeship with CSS Ltd in 2015, she went on to win her heat at the Engineers of Tomorrow installation competition at IFSEC 2017 with the help of Martin Hannaway of New College Lanarkshire. The pair secured second place overall in the competition (which marked its 20th anniversary this year with a new fire category).

That wasn’t her only accolade of the year as she then won an apprentice installer award at the British Security Industry Association’s (BSIA) Annual Luncheon.

Explaining why he nominated Stewart for the award, David Scott, curriculum and quality leader for built environment and electronic fire and security at New College Lanarkshire, said: “She is performing well beyond her years in terms of understanding systems and system circuitry. Excelling in both the theory and practical elements of her apprenticeship, Corrie has completed 12 units of her qualification with a 90% pass mark or more.”

Scott, who we interviewed about his role in tackling the skills crisis and who made our top industry influencers list this year, added: “Her fantastic interpersonal skills means she never leaves a customer until they are comfortable and compliant in using the systems.”

Three years after starting her apprenticeship Stewart is now a mentor to apprentices at New College Lanarkshire in her latest role as work-based assessor.

I spoke to her about her achievements so far, the value of apprenticeships and the transition from pupil to teacher.

IFSEC Global: Hi, Corrie. How did you get into the security industry?

Corrie Stewart: I kind of fell into it as originally I wanted to be an electrician. I was finding it hard to get an apprenticeship in that, so I ended up installing security systems.

IG: You did pretty well in last year’s Engineers of Tomorrow competition, right?

CS: Me and my partner won our heat and then finished in second place in the final.

“Engineers of Tomorrow was an amazing experience”

CS: It was an amazing experience – I’m so jealous of the ones who went down this year. It’s definitely given me more confidence in helping students through the programme to get them to the stage where they can experience it as well one day.

IG: In the competition you have to install security systems within a time limit – is it a fair recreation of how the job actually is? 

CS: In the real world you don’t have a million and one people walking by. It’s nerve-wracking!

It’s a totally different experience. But once you’re into it you zone out – and working with different people helps.

IG: Congratulations on your BSIA award last year…

CS: That was another amazing experience. I wasn’t ever really expecting that. And even when we were down there for the awards I wasn’t really expecting to get called up, so that was amazing.

And the fact that my employer came down with me made me feel a wee bit more valued.

IG: Do you think apprenticeships are the best route into this industry?

CS: I think the main ways are coming in as an apprentice or training on the job and not going to college.

But you can see the benefits of going to college through the apprenticeship programme rather than just going out on site, because you’re learning everything correctly and you’re learning a lot more.

Even though it’s one day a week you’re learning what the standards are and why we have them.

IG: How did you end up mentoring other apprentices so soon after being one yourself?

CS: After IFSEC I started thinking about what I wanted to do. I wanted to help train apprentices and give them the same experience that I had, but unfortunately there isn’t always going to be a position for that in the industry.

But a workplace assessor position came up. I applied for it, but never thought I would get it because I was just straight out of my time as apprentice myself.

Fortunately I did get it and now I have my own apprentices, my own companies that I look after. I go out on site, make sure they are doing things right, see if they need anything or want more experience in certain areas, and we can give them that.

IG: Do you still do any installation work yourself?

CS: I still do wee bits and bobs. I keep my hand in. And I’m sort of doing the role of an engineer who would have their own apprentice.

I’m not out and about doing installations every day, but the rewards you get from actually helping the apprentices is amazing.

Especially when we’ve got a few girls on the course now – to be there for them. I’m hoping that when their time comes they might go down to London [for the Engineers of Tomorrow competition].

IG: Does that represent a marked shift in the gender balance on the course?

CS: When I started at Motherwell I was the only female on the course and when I completed my apprenticeship there was a girl in first year – she’s now in third year.

We had another girl in first year and another girl in a pre-apprenticeship course we run. And she’s now a first year apprentice in the latest intake as well. So we’re slowly but surely taking over!

IG: How do you see your career unfolding over the next few years?

CS: I want to keep progressing and maybe one day lecture – but hopefully still keep my hands on the tools!




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