BT apprentices helping to switch on County Durham Superfast

North East to benefit from BT plans to create 1,000 apprenticeship and graduate jobs as UK prepares to celebrate National Apprenticeship Week 

BT apprentices are playing a key role in the roll-out of superfast broadband across County Durham.

With the multi-million pound Digital Durham partnership progressing at pace, a number of apprentice engineers have recently been recruited from across the county to help with the programme.

And even more BT apprenticeships are due to be created in the region this year. Today BT announced that the North East will benefit from plans for 1,000 new apprenticeship and graduate jobs across the UK.

Welcoming the announcement, Prime Minister, The Rt Hon David Cameron said: “I’m delighted that BT is creating 1,000 new apprenticeships and graduate jobs. Today’s announcement underlines BT’s commitment to training young people and gives them the security of a monthly pay packet and the chance of a better future.

“Backing those who want to work hard and get on with the skills they need to succeed is a key part of our long-term economic plan to secure Britain’s recovery.”

The Digital Durham programme has delivered high-speed fibre broadband to more than 50,000 premises and is now more than half way to connecting up the majority of homes and businesses across County Durham.

More than 100 planning and field engineers from BT’s local access network business Openreach, have so far laid around 200 kilometres of optical fibre cable and installed more than 200 new fibre cabinets in streets across County Durham, Gateshead and Sunderland and the Tees Valley.

Among them a team of 34 apprentice engineers, based in County Durham and across the North East, are being trained up and given the skills to build and maintain the fibre broadband network, alongside gaining a BTEC Level 3 Diploma in ICT Systems and Principles over two and a half years.

One of those is trainee planning engineer Michael Bell, 21, from Darlington, who joined Openreach, just over a year ago shortly after leaving college - where he was studying a City and Guilds Diploma in Electrical Installation.

Michael, who was attracted by the prospect of being able to ‘learn and earn’ towards a skilled job, said: “When people think of telecoms engineers they imagine them down manholes or up a telegraph pole somewhere. But as a planning engineer all my work is done from a computer screen. My task is to design the layout of the network so that the field engineers know where to build the fibre.

“Our work is based on a massive computerised mapping system called PIPeR, which details absolutely everything BT has in or on the ground anywhere in the country – every structure and every piece of cable from the exchange to every home, it’s a bit like a telecoms version of Google maps.”

Working on computerised maps means that Michael has the whole of BT’s infrastructure at his fingertips and can plan networks anywhere in the country from his desktop in Middlesbrough. So far he has helped to build networks in Durham, North Yorkshire, Sussex, Wales and parts of Scotland.

Michael explained how his team of planners map out the network before passing the information to surveyors who go out to check that the plans with what is actually there before the work is passed to the engineers on the ground.

He said: “When you are mapping out the network you have to put yourself in the mind of the field engineer. You can’t just draw a line from A to B, there are loads of things to take into account for example, a cable may cross private land, which means having to get planning permission, or going a particular route might look quicker on paper but it could mean closing a busy traffic route. Everything has to be carefully costed as well, so it is a real balancing act. It is a bit like putting together the world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle!

Michael added: “What is great about the training you get is that you get to apply the time you spend in college putting it into practice on the job. As part of my training I went out with field engineers and surveyors to get a proper understanding of what is involved at the other end. I work in a team of 15 planners with one other apprentice. It is a really tight knit team and everyone is very supportive so you’re learning all the time. I would definitely recommend the apprentice programme to anyone wanting a career in telecoms.”

Simon Roberson , BT’s regional partnership director for the North East, said: “Young people like Michael are at the forefront of the fibre revolution that will drive future economic growth across the region whilst at the same time changing for the better the way people communicate, learn to do business and enjoy their spare time.”

“This latest recruitment is great news for our region. The future of the North East as a technology leader hinges on young people getting the skills, support and training they need to create successful careers in science, engineering and IT.”

The 1,000 apprenticeship and graduate jobs announced today is in addition to the 1,000 the company created last year and is yet another example of BT investing in the future of the UK.

Youngsters will be working on areas including software development, IT, engineering and digital technology. This week is also National Apprenticeship Week which is designed to celebrate apprenticeships and the positive impact they have on individuals, businesses and the wider economy.

For more information about the Digital Durham programme please visitwww.digitaldurham.org