We met the two JTL apprentices who made it to the finals of the SPARKS Female Skills Competition
This year, we were proud to see our JTL apprentices excel as competitors in the SPARKS Female Skills competition. Earlier this year, SPARKS put out a nationwide call for the most talented female electrical apprentices to come forward and compete.
Two JTL apprentices answered that call. Emma Weeks, 44, and Naomi Kent, 29, not only competed, but made it all of the way to the grand finals of the competition at Loughborough College. And in order to get there, they’d first had to prove themselves in highly competitive regional heats which saw female student electricians of all ages whittled down to a final six competitors.
Naomi, who attends the JTL Birmingham Training Centre, undertook her regional heats at York College. She said “I genuinely didn’t expect to even get halfway through the installation they gave us, but when I stepped back and saw what I’d accomplished in the hours they gave us, I saw just how much I’d pushed myself and I had a real sense of pride in what I’d done.”
The regional heats saw competitors complete a full domestic installation within a designated time window. Apprentices weren’t allowed to see, or know, what kind of installation they’d be performing until they arrived on the day.
Emma also undertook her regional heats in York after being put forward by her tutor, James Taylor, at Loughborough College. Emma said “We started at nine o’clock in the morning, and then I think we finished at about three in the afternoon. So, it was quite full on.
“My proudest moment of the whole thing was at the end of the day when I heard that I was going to the finals – I couldn’t wait to give it all another go.”
Both Naomi and Emma started their apprenticeships later on in their lives, leaving behind careers that weren’t quite fulfilling them. Naomi worked in an opticians for six years, she said “I just wanted to apply myself to something that would keep my brain active, and I spoke to my partner who said maybe I shouldn’t be looking at retail, but at a trade instead – and, well here I am!”
Emma had left an office job which she described as something she ‘fell’ into. Emma’s passion originally lay out on the green as a professional golfer, not sat behind a desk. “There’s not much money in women’s golf unfortunately, and being a coach isn’t a year-round job when you have English weather to deal with.
“I worked in an office for a while, but I always knew that being hands on and practical was my cup of tea.”
Of course, no apprenticeship is without its challenges, and both Naomi and Emma had to overcome a great deal to become the stars they are today. Naomi, for example, received an ADHD diagnosis at the age of 28.
She said “It presents a lot differently in girls than in boys. I had gone through life thinking I was just chatty, maybe a bit scatty. But actually, there was something else going on.
“It can be difficult to concentrate, but my college has been really helpful with giving me additional support.”
Emma explained a bit about her experience as a woman in a male-dominated field, she said “I’ve not really had any issues at all, everyone’s been really friendly. I am personally used to working in male-dominated environments, and in general, as long as you can learn to get on with the lads, it’s not much different than anywhere else.”
Emma and Naomi both explained how their employers, Imtech Engineering Services and Bromford Housing respectively, had continued to support them throughout the competition. Emma’s employers even came to the final to cheer her on.
She said “It was pretty invaluable actually, because with them watching my installation they could see the areas I was good at and the areas that I needed to improve in. It was an extra benefit that after the competition I was able have a chat with them and properly talk about the future.”
Naomi remembers back to her tutor’s reaction when he found out she was going to the finals, she said “James was really proud of me, and he made sure to let me know. I remember seeing a JTL social post cheering me on and that really meant a lot too.”
Though neither of the apprentices took home the grand prize, both Naomi and Emma walked away from the finals with their heads held high, having undeniably proven that despite their late career changes, they were some of the most promising apprentices in the country.