Getting the right start with a Modern Apprenticeship

Posted on July 21, 2015 by


Michael WilliamsonGuest blog by OPITO apprentice, Michael Williamson.

Deciding to become an apprentice after leaving school was an easy decision for me because I wanted to get straight into work and learn a trade which I could build a lifelong career on. What I didn’t realise at the time, was just how important a decision I was making, especially figuring out what industry I wanted to work in.

Although I am currently an apprentice on the Upstream Oil and Gas Industry Technician Training Course, this is in fact my second apprenticeship since leaving school. I started my career at home as a mechanical apprentice with Shetland Island Council Ferries. Although I enjoyed this experience, I realised that I wanted to work in a role that could give me opportunities to work across a broad range of businesses and possibly lead to international travel opportunities.

I heard about the OPITO-managed oil and gas industry scheme through friends.. I decided to apply for a place in 2013, focussing on Instrument and Control Maintenance and was thrilled to be accepted onto the course.

My apprenticeship began with a 21 month full time course at college where I was taught by former oil and gas industry professionals who, as well as teaching us practical skills and theory, could offer good advice about working on and offshore. The atmosphere in the classroom was great, as everyone worked hard and was supportive of each other.

Being an apprentice means working to get into the mind-set of a full time professional in your field. Safety is the main priority of all work in the oil and gas industry, so learning how to behave in realistic working environments is a very important part of an apprenticeship. During my time studying at college I was able to train on a model rig where I could apply what I had learned to real life industry scenarios. Getting practical training is important, and in my experience it has been even better away from the standard classroom workshops.

As well as carrying out work tasks on the model rig, we were trained to treat the environment as a real industry workplace, adhering to safety standards. I earned my Basic Offshore Safety Induction and Emergency Training (BOSIET) and Minimum Industry Safety Training (MIST) certifications, which are both necessary to work offshore, alongside a SVQ3 at college.

Now that I’ve completed my second year on the scheme, I have moved onto the next stage of my apprenticeship – working onshore at BP’s Sullom Voe terminal in Shetland. The first couple of months at work have already given me the opportunity to apply a lot of the knowledge and skills I have learned over the past two years to day-to-day jobs on site. My training is still ongoing, and OPITO ensure apprentices are supported by an onsite mentor who I can speak to about anything over the course of my two year placement.

An important piece of advice I would give to anyone considering an apprenticeship is to look for programmes that have a clear overview and connections to the type of job you want to do at the end of it. Over the past two years I’ve realised that networking is a major part of career development, even in the early stages of training.

Being able to speak to experienced specialists and my own OPITO mentor means I have plenty of opportunities to discuss my career prospects. I’m lucky in that my role is required in such a wide variety of working environments, so anywhere that houses a safety system, fire or gas protection system etc. needs an instrument technician to check it. At the moment I am getting settled into Sullum Voe, and I’m confident that in the future I’ll have opportunities to travel through work.

Choosing an apprenticeship is challenging, as it can determine what job you’ll be doing years from starting your course. There aren’t many professions that can guarantee transferable skills and a life-long career, so it’s important to do your research and find the right fit for you.

For further details about the UK Upstream Oil and Gas Industry Technician Training Scheme, visit