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Toby Hallam lives in Bury, Greater Manchester and studied at Trafford College. He is currently working as an apprentice technician at Exyte Hargreaves Limited.

Toby had an early introduction to apprenticeships and found his ideal organisation, “The company I’m at, Hargreaves, had a program called Engineering Young Talent, they went around schools in the area hosting engineering challenges whilst talking about the benefits of the apprenticeships on offer. I applied in my last year of high school for an engineering apprenticeship as a CAD technician and was successful. After a while of working there the IT department became short-staffed. As I did really well on my IT exams in school, I thought why not see what I can offer? and I’ve been in the department ever since!”

First hearing about WorldSkills UK Competitions through his college, Toby was keen to take part:

My college wanted as many people to sign up as possible to sign up. I had a quick look into it and decided to apply to take part. Initially we had an online quiz to make sure that we met the bar to take part in the competition and I did well and made it to the National Qualifiers in 2021.

After succeeding in the National Qualifiers, he went on a few weeks later to take part in the National Finals at the Motherwell Campus of New College Lanarkshire saying, “I managed to bag myself a Silver Medal and everyone at work was really impressed.”

Toby enjoyed the greater scope that competing gave him, “I got the chance to work with virtualised environments, whilst I had worked previously a little with virtualisation it had been only on a small scale with machines that aren’t networking. In the competition I was able to see how Virtualbox networks allow virtual machines to talk to each other and the wider LAN and how resources (RAM, CPU and Disk) are allocated out between the virtual machines.”

Competitions are a test of technical and soft skills in a controlled environment and Covid restrictions also had to be taken onboard. “Before we started the competition organisers spoke to us and said that this was the first time that they had set up the competition like this and it was down to COVID restrictions. There were a few teething troubles like getting access to a shared network drive on the LAN, but these were quickly sorted by the organisers. A big shout out to Mark and Brioney who worked overnight sometimes, resolving little issues we encountered to make sure that everyone had an equal and fair go at the competition.”

Through taking part in competition Toby has also gained some new insights, “It’s always to ask if in doubt or if any help is needed. There were a few times in the competition where I was really stumped but upon asking and talking about the issue I was looking at really helped, I would either get back “that’s part of the competition, do your best to get it fixed” or “hang on It’s not supposed to do that.” There were a few parts of the competition where if I hadn’t said anything I might have been going around in circles for a while.”

Toby believes that competing has had an impact on how he approaches projects in the workplace. “The thing I will really keep in mind and bring back into the workplace is just asking why. We are going through a period of digital transformation, now is the time to ask why are we doing it this way? and can we use technology to make things easier for the person working through the process or completing the form? Working with virtualisation has also helped me to see how useful it is and makes me think about where it can be implemented in work.”

Enthusiastic about how competing has speeded up his skills development, Toby is keen about encouraging others to take the same opportunity, “Just apply for it and see where it takes you! It’s a great opportunity to show off your skills and if you do make it to the National Finals, it’s really fun and hands on, you get to have a play around with technology that you wouldn’t normally.”

Asked if he thinks his enhanced skill set has helped his employer’s business Toby says, “I’d like to think that this is the case, I’ve helped the admin and facilities team move away from having lots of excel files scattered about shared drives into a central database which makes it much easier to query the data. I’ve also implemented a new VoIP phone system for the company which uses Microsoft Teams Phone system to replace the dated analogue phone system we had before this. The Teams phone system means that no matter where the user is working, they are able to make and receive landline calls. This has been very useful in the pandemic where people are working flexibly.”

Learning and development doesn’t end at the close of competition and Toby is keen to progress:

I always aspire to keep learning something new. Even if it’s something little like watching a video. I recently watched a Draytek (a manufacturer of IT networking equipment) webinar talking all about a router that they offer and we are looking to implement. Whilst watching through things like this I will be following along and then an idea of how this can be used or implemented in the workplace will pop into my mind. I’ll make a note of this and then have a chat to my manager to see if it is beneficial to the business.

At the end of his apprenticeship Toby is looking forward to staying on with Exyte-Hargreaves and becoming more focused on project work rather than the more support-based role he currently holds. “Our MD wants us to become a paperless business, you could just go along with it and create digital forms of every paper document / record we currently have but I also have the opportunity to challenge the processes beneath the documentation, why do we do things this way? Can technology help us speed this up or make things simpler?”

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on us all and for Toby this has meant that he has more work to do than ever before. “With more things going digital and being online within our business we’ve had more people than ever calling and emailing into our service desk asking for help. I would have to say this is the most rewarding part of my job, not only do I get to speak to so many people in the business that I wouldn’t normally get chance to speak to. But I’m also helping these people on their way with their computers so that they can get on with doing what they are best at.”

Toby believes that apprenticeships need to be promoted more to students at school, “If Exyte-Hargreaves hadn’t attended my high school talking to us about apprenticeships, it wouldn’t have even been something I would have considered. Apprenticeships need to be talked about and included more in discussions when people are thinking about leaving school and progressing further.”

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