The inside scoop on the Outward Bound Apprentice Programme – an interview with Ben Joy

apprentice of the year

Developing their talent is a key part of Thales’s road to long term success and business growth, and their apprentices are no exception.  This is why, in addition to equipping them with all the technical know-how required to do their jobs, every apprentice also participates in the, now legendary, Outward Bound excursions.  To celebrate the latest Outward Bound expedition, which for the first time ever includes two groups, we speak with Ben Joy, a Software Engineering Apprentice, who is actually attending the Outward Bound event for the second time, and find out what he thought of the programme first time round, and why he’s going back.

Hi Ben, thanks for talking with us.  You first attended the Outward Bound programme in 2014, when you joined Thales to do an apprenticeship for their Ground Transportation System’s function.  What was your experience of the programme?

It was a great, fun, learning experience and it really opened me up to different ways of thinking, and working with other people.  I was younger then, and I went up with one mind-set and came away with a totally different outlook on how to approach situations.  It was brilliant for me. 

How much information did you get about what you’d be getting up to?

Not a lot.  Where I worked, we were actually the first batch of apprentices to go up, so to start with there wasn’t anyone [in our peer group] we could ask about what we’d be doing up there and what to expect.  Managers were quite secretive; they didn’t want to give way too much information, so we didn’t quite know what we were in for or what to expect, which was interesting.

Ben Did that make you nervous, excited or a bit of both?

A bit of both; myself, I’m quite an outdoorsy person, so I like being outside.  I used to live right at the bottom of the Seven Sisters cliff, so I used to like going outdoors, going for hikes, bike rides, that sort of thing.  From that perspective, it was ‘I’m going to have a great time’, it was almost like I was going on holiday.  But the other side of it is that it’s not just about going up for fun; there’s something you want to learn from it, so I was a little bit anxious about ‘what’s it going to be like meeting other people, from all over the country who are going to look at things different ways, and approach things different ways?’  And ‘how will I cope where we’re put in very intense situations where you’ve got to work out what’s the best way to do things, without coming across like ’my way’s best’’.

Do you feel like you learnt a lot?

Yeah, definitely.  I was put in a lot of situations where I thought I knew the way to do things and, learnt that, especially in a group of people, where everyone is quite stressed out, to approach a situation and say ‘my way is best, I know/I’m fairly sure how to do it’, just doesn’t work.  And it’s very rarely the best approach, so I learnt about taking a step back and listening to everyone else and hearing what they have to say. 

You recently started a different apprenticeship, this time at degree level, in software engineering, how did you find that opportunity and what was it like switching over?

It was a very lucky coincidence; I think I found it about two weeks before the application closed, so I applied, and it was all a bit of an odd interview process because I don’t think many people go from one apprenticeship to another, let alone within the same company, so a lot of the interview process I didn’t need to do because I was already here. 

cowsHaving been on the Outward Bound programme before, you were been invited to go up in a coaching/mentoring capacity this time around – what are some of your expectations about how you’re hoping to approach this role?

I imagine it would work best if I stay with one group because I’ll be able to come in on day one with a real quiet approach, standing at the back, just observing and making notes and listening to how people communicate with each other.  As the week progresses, getting a little more involved, asking questions and reacting according to the situation, and with one group that will be a little bit easier.  It’s going to be about building up the relationships with people as much as anything.

What preparation did you undertake to enable you to feel comfortable taking on this role?

I’ve had a couple of different meetings with Nick [Jordan], just sitting down and talking about different lines of questions; the need for open ended questions, and how to get people to open up.  Really making note of the different sorts of relationships you build with people.  I’ve done different bits outside of work with coaching and occasional STEM activities so I do enjoy that sort of mentoring/coaching side of things. 

Thales apprentices 2017What are you hoping to get for yourself from this experience?

I’d like to be able to develop myself in line with the Thales leadership model, just because it’s there, and that’s what Thales wants, and I’ve sat down and had a read of it and it’ quite a nice template for identifying how to improve.  What I’m also really hoping to achieve is to recognise opportunities for people to develop, and really identify how best to develop people, looking at their strengths and weaknesses, and identifying the best way to communicate that across to people.  So some people deal with it best just written down in front of them, some people prefer face-to-face, some prefer hearing a story, and figuring it out themselves.  Some people just need a direct ‘this is probably the best way’ approach and I’d like to be able to identify that best way of communicating with people and bringing them together as a team. 

Is managing and supporting people something you are keen to pursue in the future?

Yes, very much so.  When I first started working for GTS, one of the things I said in my interview is ‘I want to go into management’.  I know the path I need to take to get there – so achieve the qualifications, work in a role, understand the company – I then started looking at managerial jobs, and noted that a lot of them required that hire level of education, so I started looking at other opportunities, and found the degree apprenticeship.  Now, as well as going for something that I’d probably enjoy a lot more, I get a degree, I get to develop myself, and develop that higher level of independence; because doing a degree requires far more independent learning.  So that’s where I want to go; I want to go into management someday, and this is a great way to take that further step towards a management role. 

Ben will be up in the lakes with the rest of the apprentices and the Outward Bound Trust from 2nd – 6th April 2017, and we’ll be catching up with him when he gets back to hear how he got on.  So if you’ve got any questions for Ben, get in touch and let us know.