BT apprentices helping to switch on Northumberland 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 Northumberland.

With the multi-million pound iNorthumberland partnership progressing at pace, a team 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.”

To help the rollout in Northumberland and across the North East a budding team of 34 trainee engineers are already being trained up and given the skills to install and maintain fibre broadband, alongside gaining a BTEC Level 3 Diploma in ICT Systems and Principles over two and a half years.

One of the Northumberland apprentices is Steven Parsons, 19, from Ashington. He joined Openreach, BT’s local network business, a year and a half ago after studying IT and business studies at sixth form college, attracted by the prospect of being able to ‘learn and earn’ towards a skilled job.

He said: “Before joining I was studying IT and business studies at Sixth Form College. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do afterwards - I didn’t really fancy going to university. I’m handy with technology and being outside away from a desk really appealed to me, so this was ideal.”

Steven kick started his new career with five weeks intensive training. He said: “Most of what we were doing was classroom based and at first I did find a lot of it a bit daunting. There was lots of theory and ploughing through books and manuals and trying to get your head around how this huge telecoms network actually works.”

However, Steven said on-the-job training meant he was quickly able to get to put theory into practice.

“Part of your training involves ‘buddying up’ for two weeks so you are shadowing an experienced engineer out in the field working on real jobs. That is when the teaching clicked into place. For another two weeks they then shadow you – to see how you get on.”

He has already gained plenty of experience working all over the county but as the iNorthumberland rollout has progressed, Steven has noticed a sharp increase in customer connections.

Steven said: “There’s definitely been an increase in the number of ‘cabinet jumpering’ jobs that we do – that’s where we just enable the cabinet to link up with people’s homes but customers set up the broadband in their homes themselves. When I started things were much quieter, now I can be doing up to eight of these jobs a day. I think more and more people are realising the benefits of superfast and are signing up to a service.”

His job has taken him the length and breadth of Northumberland, clocking up close to 15,000 miles in his Openreach van, since he started in August 2013.

He said: “It’s a big county and very rural so a 60 mile round trip to visit a customer is not uncommon.

“A lot of what I do involves connecting up people’s home and businesses to fibre broadband. When we do what is called a ‘managed install’ we go into a customer’s home and get them connected up to the network. At the end, we test the line and as part of making sure the customer is set up and ready to go, I show them a demonstration video on iPlayer. When they see how quick and smooth running everything is, their faces just light up. They’re usually quite shocked at the difference.”

Steven is also a convert to superfast broadband after fibre arrived in his home town of Ashington. “I’m quite a big online gamer and before fibre the connection would often lag and be too slow to play anyone else – now its flying. After a hard day at work I can relax by streaming a movie online, it’s so easy. I would recommend it to anyone, it’s the way forward.”

Steven is one of hundreds of Openreach engineers involved in the iNorthumberland rollout - clocking up thousands of man hours and laying more than 14,000 kilometres of optical fibre in around 225 kilometres of underground cable– enough to stretch right across the county from Berwick to Blyth more than three times.

Simon Roberson, BT’s regional partnership director for the North East, said: “Young people like Steven are at the forefront of the fibre revolution that will drive future economic growth across Northumberland 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. Next 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 up to date information on the iNorthumberland programme please visitwww.inorthumberland.org.uk


The iNorthumberland project is part financed by the European Regional Development Fund Programme 2007 to 2013. The Department for Communities and Local Government is the managing authority for the European Regional Development Fund Programme, which is one of the funds established by the European Commission to help local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support local businesses and create jobs. For more information visit www.communities.gov.uk/erdf