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ABM - Apprenticeship Tales

10 March 2017 | Updated 01 January 1970

We've delved in to the files of one of ThisWeekinFM's new sponsors and discovered they have an Apprenticeship pedigree...starting with MD Andy Donnell and working through interviews with 24 year old Marissa Francis and 21 year old Sam Tanti.


Andy Donnell, managing director, ABM UK, Profile:

Donnell was born in Townhill Park, which is a suburb of Southampton, Hampshire. He was educated at Townhill Infant and Middle Schools, and Bitterne Comprehensive.

Donnell began his career as an apprentice electrician at RF Webb and Son in Shirley, Hampshire, and stayed with the company until he was 26 years old. After working on building sites for a number of years, he took a job with Farnborough based facilities management company, Sulzer Infra, as a maintenance engineer.

 Donnell became a supervisor at Sulzer Infra, which was followed by a rapid rise up the management ladder. He stayed on the technical side but decided to broaden his knowledge and opted to do a two year course at the Chartered Management Institute in Corby, Northamptonshire.

He was invited to become a partner with Westway Services in 2007 by its founder, Carl Brooks. He then rose through the ranks in roles covering operations and account management.

Donnell led Westway through management buyouts in 2009 and 2014, the latter to US-owned ABM.

Away from the facilities management world, Donnell volunteers with the Samaritans, which he has done since 2012.


Apprenticeship Quotes:

  • "As a former apprentice I believe that I and the company have a responsibility to invest in young people."
  • "If my time volunteering with the Samaritans has taught me one thing, it’s that the simple act of giving someone your attention can be a very powerful, and sometimes life-changing gesture."
  • "The final, critical, component of any learning and development programme is mentoring. Apprentices need mentors. Someone they can use as a source of expert advice and guidance, outside of their day-to-day line management."
  • "I started out as an apprentice electrician and every single member of the ABM Technical Services leadership team has completed an apprenticeship. We are proof that these schemes can be the start of interesting and varied careers. "
  • "Across the industry, role models for an aspiring engineer are few and far between. That’s not something we can fix overnight. It starts with apprenticeships and, levy or otherwise, the industry must work to develop people beyond a four-year programme."
  • "Success should never look like people finishing a course. It’s about helping them to perform, and to progress through delivery and supervision roles into senior leadership positions."
  • "Anyone starting a career in engineering back in the late 90s would be in a leadership role around now. However, government incentives for apprenticeships disappeared back then and we just haven’t had a strong pipeline of leaders."


Marissa Francis, Apprentice Engineer, ABM UK

Lives in Lewisham, London with her four-year-old daughter.


Why did you decide to do an apprenticeship?

It all started at school when I did an engineering course as a GSCE option and I absolutely loved it. The advice I got for the next step was to study mechanical engineering at college, because it’s a broad course that means you can get a taste of everything and then decide what to specialise in. I just loved everything to do with it! The creativity of getting things to work and the science behind it all is amazing. People don’t realise how much effort goes into what looks so simple. 

From there, I found it difficult. I wanted to get hands-on experience but there was a lot of pressure to go to University and it was difficult to get advice and information on apprenticeships. I applied to University and was accepted to study electronics. I finished the first year, but it just felt wrong to be sitting in a lecture hall when I really wanted to be learning on the job. So I took a risk and left.

The day after attending a careers event, I was contacted by Women in Engineering about an apprenticeship available at Westway Services (now part of ABM UK). And that was that! I started as an apprentice engineer soon after that, and it was exactly what I wanted.


Have you faced any specific challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

Finding an apprenticeship was the challenge. Unless you have people around you in the industry it’s hard to know who to go to and how to get into it. I think it used to be that parents passed down their trade to their children, but I didn’t know where to start.

The other challenge for me has been making sure I can give as much as possible to my course at the same time as looking after my daughter, who is four. Day to day it’s a bit of a juggle, but when she’s sick or something, it can be difficult. My mum used to help me a lot, but she recently passed away so things have got a little bit more difficult – but ABM UK is very supportive and I’m even more determined to finish my course in May 2017 and start my career.


Have you ever had a mentor or a sponsor, or anyone who has helped your career?

Yeah, all apprentices at ABM have a mentor. Justine, my mentor, was appointed to me two years ago. We meet up regularly, but she’s always on the end of the phone for advice, any time. I think mentors are really important.


If you were to look back five years, what would you see in terms of your achievements?

That I’ve managed to get to the end! People weren’t sure I’d be able to handle everything because I have a child and I left University, but I’ve done it. I wanted to learn every day and leave my apprenticeship having done my best!

I’ve been nominated for an Apprenticeship of the Year award this year, which I’m proud of, and it demonstrates how hard I’ve worked and how much the business has supported me. I hope I win!


Tell us about your plans for the future?

I just want my future self to learn as much as possible, gather as much experience as I can and put myself in different scenarios. I just want to keep building on myself.


What does a typical day involve?

Every single day is different. I am currently in a retail store in Stratford, so my day can vary from unblocking the toilets to checking lighting to maintaining water outlets that aren’t used frequently. I shadow a colleague so could be fixing a broken handle one minute, but then learning to clean heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) unit filters the next. It’s really varied.


What kind of qualities do you need to be an apprentice?

You need to be open minded and able to listen. You also need to be confident enough ask questions and find out why people are doing certain things, so you understand the process from end to end. I also think that you need to be very motivated and like the fact that things change quickly and you have to adapt.


What are the best and most challenging things about the job?

The best thing is learning something new every day. The challenge is keeping up-to-date with weekly reports which all apprentices have to do to track what you’ve done and learnt. It’s tough to keep on top of that and work a full day, but it’s worth it.


Why would you recommend an apprenticeship to others? What are the benefits?

When it comes to practical jobs like engineering, you need hands-on, onsite experience and skill. There is nothing better than learning on the job; you learn so much more quickly. I found it hard sitting in a lecture hall trying to imagine the environment I might be in.

You are also more supported as an apprentice compared to traditional routes. You form close relationships with the people you work with and they’re there for you, whatever you need.


Sam Tanti, Facilities Engineer, ABM UK

Lives in Orpington, Kent.


Why did you decide to do an apprenticeship?

When I was due to leave school I really didn't have any idea what I wanted to do. An apprenticeship gave me the confidence in my mind that I would learn a trade that I could use for the rest of my life, and I feel that's an invaluable asset to have, which I'm able to offer potential future employers. I could have gone to sixth form college or to University; but with an apprenticeship you're not paying fees – you're essentially getting paid to get first-hand experience and a well-regarded qualification.


What were you doing before you started your apprenticeship?

My apprenticeship with ABM UK was my first proper job after leaving school. I did some work experience for Westway Services (now owned by ABM UK) when I was 14 years old where I worked with an engineer for a week. We were based on customers' sites in the City, and were reacting to calls and dealing with clients' requests, and all of this experience gave me some great insight into the industry. Overall, it helped me make the decision that working in facilities management is what I wanted to do with my career.


Have you faced any specific challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

I'm faced with all different kinds of challenges on a daily basis, and I try to react to them as positively as I can – that's definitely something that my apprenticeship taught me. Clients can be very demanding, and there are some who expect you to drop everything and fix their problem at the drop of a hat, so that requires a certain amount of diplomacy.

I recently did a job where our client called us as a matter of urgency, as the uninterruptable power supply on one of their units had gone down – simply, the batteries had failed leaving the main system unprotected, and it had to be fixed, no matter what. We were called out at 19.30 that evening and worked non-stop until midday the next afternoon until the situation was restored. I guess you have to expect the unexpected in this job, and try to be as quick thinking and professional as you can at all times.


Have you ever had a mentor or a sponsor or anyone who has helped your career?

I was allocated a mentor for the duration of my apprenticeship, who I met with at least once a month during my four-year course. My mentor was a huge support during this time, and was someone experienced, who I could talk to about virtually anything. As well as giving me advice, my mentor's job was to challenge me on what I was learning, which made me think about what I was doing and why. Mentoring is something that I feel is paramount to the success of any apprenticeship.


If you were to look back in five years, what would you see in terms of your achievements?

Two years ago when I was in the final year of my apprenticeship I was put forward to complete the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) Level 5 qualification, which is the equivalent to half a degree. It was quite a daunting prospect at first, as I had very little managerial experience; but my managers at the time believed in my abilities, and felt that I was ready to take the course. I'm so glad that I listened and took their advice, and was brave enough to see it through – I learned a lot about myself, including my strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately the areas that I needed to improve on.


Tell us about your plans for the future?

I would love to focus my talents in the data centre industry, as that's what I see is the future, and that's where a lot of the facilities management work seems to be going. My apprenticeship gave me the freedom to explore different areas of facilities management, and the time to decide which one I wanted to focus on. In five years' time I would love to be a facilities manager – I think it's important that I push myself as much as I can. I will also try my hardest to help those around me and to mentor my junior colleagues and make sure that they have the same opportunities that I've had.


What does a typical day involve?

There's no typical day for me. I generally look after a team of about 10 people, who are all ABM UK engineers. I have a lot of varying responsibilities, which focus on monitoring and supervising all of the maintenance activities that are happening at any one time. I also oversee and coordinate all of the subcontractors, building management systems, and power management systems, and have to react to any customer concerns that crop up. There's a lot to balance, and it's a challenge to make sure that everything is running as smoothly as possible without losing sight.


What kind of qualities do you need to be a successful apprentice?

You need to be self-assured, to always lead by example and be very confident in your abilities. I'm responsible for a team of 10 people, so I need to have great leadership skills. It's important that I remain as calm as possible, and demonstrate to everyone around me that I have a clear idea of the jobs that need to be completed and importantly by when. With this said, all of our jobs have deadlines and that's a key factor that our clients judge us on, so time management has to come to me as second nature.


What specific qualifications do you now have, as a result of your apprenticeship?

ABM UK has got a really impressive training centre in Greenford, Middlesex, which has helped me to develop my skills during my time at the company – it was a brilliant resource to have to help me through my apprenticeship. I've managed to gain my National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) level 2 in air conditioning, and also NVQ level 2 and 3 in electrical installation. I also have my Institute of Leadership and Management Level 5.


What are the best things about being an apprentice?

Apprenticeships are structured and give you a huge amount of support, both from your mentors and your colleagues. All of my fellow apprentices were very likeminded - we were all passionate about our work and the direction that we wanted to go in. Facilities management seems to be a very 'helping' industry, and I loved the fact that I got so much support from my peers during my time as an apprentice.


Why would you recommend an apprenticeship to others?

I think the biggest selling point about an apprenticeship is that you're getting paid to study for and gain a qualification that you keep for life, and no one is going to take that away from you. In my mind, doing an apprenticeship saved me getting into loads of debt, which I would have accumulated had I gone to University, and then there would have been no guarantee of getting a job straight away.

By doing an apprenticeship, there's a very high likelihood that you'll be offered a job at the end of it, but for that to happen you have to excel at what you do, put in the hard graft and impress your peers and everyone around you. However, even if you don't get a job at the end of your apprenticeship with the company that you've been with, you've got to look at the positives, that you've learnt an important skill that is transferrable to a number of other companies.

Picture: Marissa, Andy and Sam 


Article written by TWinFM Reporter | Published 10 March 2017


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