Level 5 Subsea and Offshore Engineering
Niall studies Subsea and Offshore Engineering at Newcastle College University Centre. He Stepped Up to a degree after studying at Newcastle College. Find out what he has to say about his time learning with us.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your background, etc.?
When I dropped out of Sixth Form, I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do next. I came to a Newcastle College Open Evening and the Energy courses caught my eye. With my mam’s encouragement, I signed onto the Level 3 Subsea and Renewable Engineering course. Eventually, one of my lecturers recommended me for a job at JDR Cables and now I’m an apprentice subsea technician, which involves going offshore and installing cables in windfarms. My apprenticeship involves one day release per week, which allowed me to gain the Level 3 qualifications I needed to progress onto degree courses.
Why did you choose to Step Up to a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?
When I finished Level 3, my lecturer recommended me for a job and my apprenticeship provider has helped to pay the tuition fees for my degree at the University Centre! I was going to progress onto a degree course anyway because of their importance to most jobs now, but the set-up with my apprenticeship was just the cherry on top.
What was it about this course that made you want to progress onto a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?
The renewable industry is a massive, growing sector. Look around at all the wind farms popping up and you’ll see what I mean! Through my apprenticeship and the University Centre, I’ve developed a strong knowledge base while I get to put theory into practice offshore. Once my time offshore is done, I’d like to challenge myself to enter a management role or an office environment. I know the degree I’ve studied at Newcastle College University Centre is going to help me achieve that goal.
What benefits do you think there are in choosing to stay on to study at Newcastle College University Centre?
The major benefit to me is my familiarity with lecturers. They know my strengths and weaknesses and can tailor guidance for me to help bring my skills up to scratch, so they’re always helping me to improve on key areas. The College staff train every student to put in the effort and present themselves professionally - we reap the rewards of that investment in us.
What are the facilities like at the University Centre for your course and as a student?
I’ve only really experienced the Energy Academy, but the facilities there are great! Downstairs there are workshops with industry equipment like gearboxes, turbines, models and other tools to hone our practical skills. Upstairs has dedicated classrooms, computer rooms and a degree students-only common room to study, relax or come together as a community.
What do you enjoy the most about your degree?
Learning the theory behind hands-on work. As an apprentice I’m in a privileged position since I can apply what I learn at the University Centre every day. For example, my computer design modules help me develop skills and knowledge I wouldn’t working offshore, which could help me enter project management or design roles in future. I even get the chance to teach as well: me and several coursemates are going to teach some Level 3 students next week. It feels really good to have this level of variety, while also being able to give back to Newcastle College too!
What inspires you?
Mainly, my desire to succeed. My academic trajectory has helped me to pick up skills for life and industry. Once I'm established, I can access my other major inspiration: money. I’m not ashamed to say I want to be financially stable in life. The renewable sector has a real future, so I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to progress and earn a lot through it. If I had to name a person though, probably my mam, since she pointed out the renewable course to me and I’ve been able to thrive from there, so I suppose I’m a product of her belief in me!
Tell us about how you have worked with industry whilst studying your degree (i.e. talks / live briefs / projects).
The apprenticeship is the main one, but I’ve done some other shorter placements through my degree. We had a day at ORE Catapult, which showed us industry-level testing of wind turbines. Lots of companies have come in to give talks, like High Talks, who explained the different specialist components in wind turbines. Newcastle College University Centre is always trying to introduce us to industry specialists, so I feel I can offer more to other students thanks to the connections I've gained here.
How do you think learning from industry-experienced tutors has benefitted you?
Obviously, when you learn from someone in industry, their knowledge and experience rub off on you. I've learnt great theory from them, and my lecturers motivated me to do my own research on interesting topics that will make me a greater asset to companies. Since the Energy Academy staff know what local businesses are looking for, they help us to tailor our skills to each company.
How would you describe the staff at the University Centre?
The staff are all friendly, helpful and always push us to succeed. All staff go the extra mile to support us in our work, encouraging us to become punctual, focused and goal-oriented workers for our placement companies. Any welfare concerns are taken seriously and those involved are treated sympathetically. Our Student Services staff and Learning Enhancement Coaches are fantastic as well, they really help us to make the most of our time.
Have you overcome any challenges either before or whilst studying your degree?
For me, time management. Being an apprentice, I only have one weekday in five to dedicate to academic work. I learn new course content, review it thoroughly, then do independent research to supplement my assignments. COVID was another challenge because it disrupted long-term projects and learning, but with support from our curriculum leader, we secured two or three weeks of block release from work so we could come into the University Centre and blitz our studies. The other apprentices and I banded together to complete five assignments within three weeks, which was not just great team building but felt fantastic to overcome.
What kinds of support have you received during your studies?
Our lecturers are always available, which is helpful since we have such intense teaching when we’re on day release. They review content, answer questions and provide loads of supporting documents and module guides. If you think you're lacking certain skills, you can book a one-hour morning slot with a lecturer who'll talk you through the skills until you understand. The direct support I've received from Energy Academy staff has really helped my wellbeing.
What has been the highlight of your time studying at Newcastle College University Centre?
Securing my apprenticeship. Getting rewarded for my hard work at Level 3 was fantastic, and the fact that my employer funded my degree as well has been massively helpful. The businesses I met through Newcastle College University Centre have helped me progress professionally as well in securing job offers. The six friends I met in apprenticeships through JDR Cables will also probably be friends for life.
What’s Newcastle like as a student city, in your experience?
It’s fantastic! People based at the main campus probably experience more than I do, but Newcastle is a big party city with loads of students. The University Centre has a great campus, a good library and fantastic staff support for students. Even though we have a lot of important facilities at Wallsend and Blyth, for me personally, I couldn’t ask for much more from Newcastle as a place to prepare me for industry.
In what ways do you think your degree at Newcastle College University Centre has prepared you for employment?
The combined theory and practical learning have introduced me to lots of industry roles, including managerial roles like design management or a more hands-on role like blade technician. Newcastle College prepared me for industry by teaching me skills, providing talks, introducing me to companies and showing me operations first-hand. I doubt I would have received this much hands-on training and industry experience on a standard university course – Newcastle College University Centre was definitely the right choice for me.
What are your plans after you graduate?
I’m still in talks with the Energy Academy to study a Top-Up degree, since I want to work with JDR Cables throughout my course. I want to enter the workforce with the best qualifications I can because I want to be a real asset to employers. Once my service technician apprenticeship ends, I'll enter a junior fibre-tech course, which should hopefully guide me into a long career in industry. Eventually, I could go into fuels, people management, the design team or something else - the options are pretty broad! Either way, I’ll have a long career industry where I’ll earn enough money to hopefully retire young.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about Steppin’ Up to a degree at Newcastle College University Centre
Do your research. Don’t just jump into it as the next step - check if a degree workload is right for you. If it is, then Newcastle College University Centre provides a great range of degrees and pathways, as well as links to your chosen industry. Taking your time to make the right choice is always a good thing, since if you make the right choice, then you’re setting yourself up for the rest of your life.
Describe your student experience in three words.
Enjoyable. Hard-working. Rewarding.
What are your top 5 tips for Steppin’ Up at Newcastle College?
Research the industry – check the industry, degree and workload options to ensure you’re making the right choice
Focus on time management skills – prepare yourself to manage the different subjects and their workloads
Look for relevant external research in the industry – always be on the lookout for employment opportunities
Make sure to make the most of the tools available to you – if there is an area you want to work on, use every tool at your disposal to explore it!