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Becca Neale

Apprentice Mechanical Workshop Technician

"I've only been here seven months but I've already learned ten times more than I did at college."

Becca Neale's interest in understanding how things work began at a young age. When she was 14 she decided to have flying lessons at an airfield near to where she lives. She started volunteering there and began to take an interest in the engineering side of the aircrafts:

"I had flown a plane and seen what it was capable of but that made me want to know what was underneath the skin. I wanted to understand how such an amazing machine actually worked."

 Photo of Becca Neale Apprentice Mechanical Workshop Technician in Biology.

Becca had the opportunity to spend a week in the Biology department supporting the Workshop Technician at the University and her interest in engineering continued to grow. She decided to apply for an Engineering and Manufacturing Diploma at York College.

While Becca gained the level 3 qualification at college she didn't gain the practical knowledge that she felt she needed to pursue a career in engineering. When she saw that the University was looking to recruit an Apprentice Mechanical Workshop Technician she jumped at the chance.

The Biology Research Workshop provides a dedicated departmental service and is tasked with coming up with bespoke solutions to problems for PhD students and staff. This can range from large projects - like the SkyLine 2D auto chamber platform for unprecedented GHG analyser application in field experiments, an autonomous robot to help researches gather round the clock data - through to smaller projects such as developing automatic doors for ants and creating tiny and precise parts for microscopes.

Becca's role includes developing her skills in welding, fabrication, milling, using computer controlled machines and operating the 3D printer and she feels she has learned so many valuable skills in just a few months.

"Our role is to help PhD students and staff because research equipment is so expensive. If they need a small part it may cost £600. We can often make this for just the cost of the materials, saving the department a lot of money."

As part of Becca's apprenticeship she goes to Derwent Training one day a week and she will get her level 3 qualification in 2022. After this, she hopes to be kept on at the University on a permanent basis to put all of her new-found skills into practice.

Becca's manager, Workshop Manager Mark Bentley adds:

"Taking on an apprentice is a successful way of addressing real skills gaps appearing in many technical roles. It is a small capital investment but can initially be a larger time and effort investment on current staff, but what you put in is what you get out. The chance to pass on your knowledge and skill set to the next generation is a wonderful and noble opportunity and one I would highly recommend."

Finally what would Becca say to other women like her who are thinking about applying for roles that are typically male-dominated?

"If you enjoy something then don’t let the fact that there aren't a lot of other women doing it put you off. At the University you aren't treated any differently because you are female and longer term I think more and more employers want to address the gender imbalance putting us women in a strong position."