‘Amazing opportunity’ for new Solent NHS Trust apprentices

Solent NHS Trust apprentice Jacques Knight. Picture: Dominic ParkesSolent NHS Trust apprentice Jacques Knight. Picture: Dominic Parkes
Solent NHS Trust apprentice Jacques Knight. Picture: Dominic Parkes
They are the future of the NHS.

Apprentices Jacques Knight and Jack Sturgess will spend the next four years learning vital healthcare engineering skills which will literally keep hospitals and health buildings running.

Once qualified, they will be equipped with the knowledge to service and repair huge boilers and complex air conditioning systems, handle medical gases, fix leaks and anything else that gets in their way.

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Together with some intense college tuition, the pair will learn on-the-job from highly experienced colleagues in the maintenance team at Solent NHS Trust and graduate under a newly accredited health estate scheme, intended to address the acute national shortfall in workforce.

Chris James, Senior Estate Maintenance and Infrastructure Manager, hopes the apprentices will be the first of many new entrants, year on year, who will help safeguard the future of Solent’s huge network of complex engineering plant and equipment.

“Our team was brimming with experience and insider know-how – but none of us were getting any younger and we had no clear talent pipeline,” said Chris, who began his own NHS career as an engineering apprentice at Southampton General Hospital.

“It was definitely time to pass on those crucial health engineering skills to a new generation.”

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“This will be an amazing opportunity for Jacques and Jack as well as hopefully a rewarding experience for our existing team.”

Chris added: “The NHS is always going to need skilled engineers, underlined by the increasing environmental and technical challenges we face.

“These are crucial roles – without them, our buildings and specialist life support systems wouldn’t function and clinical staff couldn’t do their important work.”

Jacques, 25, from Portsmouth, and Jack were taken on following a joint recruitment campaign with Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, which also has two entry level apprentices following an identical pathway.

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Their first few weeks in the role has involved an induction led by Kevan Eames and Pip Kewley, both of whom joined Solent NHS Estates and Facilities as estates maintenance officers earlier this year.

The concept of combining workplace and classroom learning - while being paid – held the same appeal for Jacques and Jack, who are about to start a seven-month course with Southampton Engineering Training Association.

Jacques was studying electronic engineering at university when the covid pandemic struck. Unable to finish the course, he took up a post as a hospital maintenance assistant before applying for the Solent apprenticeship.

“There seemed to be much clearer career progression here,” he said.

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“It is going well so far. Everyone has been friendly and quite happy to answer lots of questions. The job security appealed to me as well as the chance to work at multiple sites rather than one big one.”

Once qualified, Jacques and Jack will be multi-skilled mechanical electrical engineers – and invaluable to the NHS.

Solent NHS Trust runs mental health and community services and community hospitals in Portsmouth and Southampton, including St James Hospital and St Mary's Hospital.