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Aaron Bullha

Level 3 Rail Engineering

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Aaron Bullha

My lecturers and tutors have all gone out of their way to make sure me and my classmates know everything we need to know, not just in track and rail but general engineering as well. I feel like having the opportunity to practice on real-life rail equipment will help me no matter where in the industry I progress, and it's all thanks to Newcastle College.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background etc?

I’m Aaron Bullha, I’m 16, I’m in the first year of my L3 course at the Rail Academy. I study loads of different units at the minute – all the different ways to communicate, different industry methods, etc.


How did you hear about Newcastle College? Did you attend an Open Day prior to starting at the College? If so, did you find it useful?

I’ve had a lot of older friends come to Newcastle College, a couple of my friends study Drama courses here, either in the year above me or at Newcastle College University Centre for their degrees. The word-of-mouth recommendations I had to study here were great, so I decided to apply because I thought it would be the best place for me.

I attended two open events! They were really useful – I went to the main Rye Hill Campus for one of the days where we learnt about a course, and then once I realised I wanted to study Rail Engineering I came to the Open Day here at the Rail Academy, where we built tracks, took apart bikes, and similar engineering tasks. It was really good! We talked to as many tutors as we could at the Open Days (my mam was very inquisitive, let’s say!) and asked a million and one questions, but it all paid off in the end.


What made you decide to come to the college and enrol on the course you selected?

At school, I really became interested in Engineering. I looked at the courses at Newcastle College and I thought my current course would be the best match for me, since I thought this kind of labour would suit me well. I also became really familiar with my future coursemates thanks to us all attending the Open Days together, so on the first day of the course we were all chatting to each other quite naturally, and a lot of the tutors remembered us all from before, so it reinforced the idea that the Rail Academy was a really friendly community.

I knew I wanted to do something Engineering-related, but General Engineering just wasn’t ticking the box for me. So I looked at the more specific courses and I naturally gravitated towards Rail Engineering. I think part of the reason I chose Rail Engineering was because in school, I didn’t have the opportunity to study engineering until quite late on, but once I did it quickly became my favourite lesson, and the one I did the best in as well.


How would you describe the advice and support you received from college and your tutors? Have you had any support for our Central Support Team – Pastoral support?

Really good, actually! Every question I’ve had so far, even before I started to study here, my lecturers have been willing to answer in loads of detail – they’ve always made time for us all, no matter the situation. Thanks to how informative all my lecturers were when I was still considering joining or I’d just started here, it became really easy to decide that I was going to come here.

I don’t think I’ve spoken to CSS or Student Services. I have a Pop Card for transport, so I had to get support with securing that through college, but other than that I was fine. The process was all very easy, really – just a few emails that staff responded to quickly and then I was sorted! Honestly the level of support at Newcastle College has made a nice change from my previous schools!


Do you have any tutors who have industry experience? If so, how has this helped you?

Yes, I think most of them do! We did a night shift with a few of my tutors as part of the Brit Challenge, which had its challenging moments but overall was a fantastic experience that gave me some great on-the-job training. My shift lasted from 11pm-8am, which was a really eye-opening experience, and we got loads of breaks so it wasn’t too taxing. I brought loads of food and about four cans of energy drinks during the night, which I really needed to keep me alert! But honestly, I wouldn’t trade that experience, it was a great insight for me into the industry and it’ll be so helpful moving forward.

Our track teacher has industry experience, so every question I have about going into work (and I ask a lot of them!) he knows everything there is to know about it – where to look, what I’ll be looking for, who to speak to about getting help. His career path to date is exactly what I’m looking for, so I feel so lucky to be able to learn from tutors with that much in-depth and hands-on experience.


Did you look into financial support available from the college? If so what were they and how did they help?

Yes, and it was very easy.


Have you overcome any challenges while on your course? If so how has the college helped you?

I would say so, yeah. I get along with new people quite well, but when they’re not people I click with straight away then I can get quite uncomfortable fairly quickly. Fortunately, everyone I’ve met at the Rail Academy have been so friendly and supportive that I’ve had no troubles chatting to any of them, and I’ve become quite good friends with everyone at the Rail Academy. My confidence has definitely developed thanks to my time at Newcastle College, and particularly with support from my lecturer – he literally feels like one of my best friends, it’s so easy to talk to him! I knew coming into college that it would be a much more laid-back environment, but I was still expecting it to be like an extension of school; instead, it’s much more like hanging out with friends while learning about topics I’m actually curious about!


What do you/did you enjoy most about your course?

Probably the practical elements. We do the majority of our training in the Rail Academy workshop, but we also have simulated rail lines outside the main building that we get to use for training. The equipment we can use at the Rail Academy is second-to-none: there are fully equipped indoor and outdoor track lines, workshops, industry-standard tools, and so much more! It’s really helpful to know that I’m learning practical skills with the same equipment I’ll be using in the rail industry, because it gives me an edge for when I’m starting out in my career.


How do you feel that the course has/is benefitting you?

When I first started at Newcastle College, I didn’t expect to learn so much about my subject. Thankfully, my lecturers and tutors have all gone out of their way to make sure me and my classmates know everything we need to know, not just in track and rail but general engineering as well. I feel like having the opportunity to practise on real-life rail equipment will help me no matter where in the industry I progress, and it’s all thanks to Newcastle College. If in the end, I decide not to go into the rail industry, I know I have the skills and confidence to go into another field of engineering.


Have you done any work experience or a work placement as part of your course?

We’ve done PWIs which are where industry specialists come in and we have the chance to discuss the industry, our course and what opportunities are open to us after completing our studies at Newcastle College, which are always really insightful and interesting! Coming in, I assumed that the majority of graduate roles would be related to track maintenance, but the sector is so much broader than that, which pleasantly surprised me! When you get to actually speak to these experienced industry professionals, having the chance to interact, ask them questions and get their feedback, then it’s an invaluable chance that very few people get before going into this industry. Honestly, getting work placements in the rail industry in particular is a bit harder because you have to be at least 18 years old to physically be allowed on-track, so we have a few business partners who offer rail experience to older students; otherwise, it’s just mainly the PWIs. A few of the second year students have gotten quite familiar with these different companies so a few of them have been offered jobs after completing the course, or gained work experience through PWI-related networking. I’ve also done the BRIT Challenge.


What would you like to do when you finish your course? Would you consider studying a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?

The first job I want to do after completing my course is in track maintenance. After that, I’ve thought about moving into the mechanised side of rail, such as driving the diggers rather than breaking my back picking up concrete slabs. On the other hand, I was thinking about Steppin’ Up to a Rail degree at Newcastle College University Centre, but it’s a tricky choice for me because, if I went down the educational route and then tried to enter industry from there, then I’ll have more opportunities; but if I go straight into industry from completing my Level 3 course, I can go straight into the industry and build up my experience through hands-on work from day one. To be honest, I’m a bit 50:50 at the minute.


What are your ambitions for the future?

In a big house, retired! I would say that I want to be more focused on the management role, because I’ve found out there are project manager roles available that have greater responsibilities and oversee more projects, which I think will be further up my alley and give me more opportunities for faster career progression in the long run. For now, I want to start at the bottom and work my way up the career ladder, and see where it takes me.


What would you say to anyone thinking of studying a course with Newcastle College?

I think it’s a great college to go to! I can’t say much about the main campus, but the Rail Academy has been such a welcoming environment and there’s a real community here. I was quite scared when I first started because I’m the only one from my school who came here, but it was so easy to come straight into Newcastle College and enjoy my time here!

Top tips

Don’t arrive over-prepared – on my first day, I arrived on campus with about seven pencil cases and four clip-files, when I really didn’t need that many! I’d obviously recommend coming prepared, but you won’t need to bring all of W.H. Smith’s with you!

Don’t stress out – when I first arrived at the Rail Academy I was a stress ball, but after the first week I realised I could chill out.

Get your assignments done in good time – never leave them until the last minute, because that’s a pain. Doing your assignments in good time also mean you’re more likely to do them well, which means you’ll benefit more when it comes to revision because you’ll have higher-quality notes from your time here.

Don’t restrict yourself, socially or academically – I know a few people who shied away from everyone at first, and didn’t want to interact with anyone, but it’s much better to put yourself out there and get to know more people so that you’re no longer gravitating solely towards people that you know.