Having been nominated by his managers for his incredible journey through the ranks since joining the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) in 2013, this year’s Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards saw Senior Electrical Systems Design Engineer, Barry Preston, take home the award for ‘Shining Star’.
The ‘Shining Star’ title is awarded to a former apprentice who has demonstrated significant achievements, both in their professional life and as a person, through making the most of the opportunities given to them as an apprentice. This is someone who has made a real difference to their workplace, has potential to achieve even more and is an inspiration to others.
Over the course of the last 8 years, Barry has gone from starting out as a Level 3 engineering apprentice - to completing a Level 4 HND and joining the UKAEA’s RACE team (Remote Applications in Challenging Environments) team - to undertaking an engineering degree and taking on the role of Senior Engineer.
Barry’s HNC project saw him design, built, test, and demonstrate a haptic glove VR system to control robots remotely (pictured), which contributed to a multi-million-pound research grant for the RAIN (Robotics and AI in Nuclear) Hub at UKAEA. His academic achievements include a 100% record in his Level 3 BTEC and Level 4 HNC in Electrical/Electronic Engineering, where he achieved a Double Distinction* and Distinction, respectively. He has since gone on to win both the Apprentice of the Year and Student of the Year Awards at Abingdon and Witney College.
Alongside his day-to-day duties, Barry is now a mentor to his peers within his organisation and an ambassador for apprenticeships, going into schools and attending other events to promote such opportunities.
Barry said: "I decided to take the apprenticeship route because I wanted to learn on the job whilst also completing academic studies and earning a salary. The combination of practical learning on the job alongside the theoretical work at college and university is a great way to solidify knowledge and develop in every aspect, which I felt would give me a great foundation for the rest of my career.
“I chose the apprenticeship at UKAEA because I wanted to be involved in world-leading research into fusion energy. Their apprenticeship scheme is outstanding – all apprentices are rotated between departments to gain a varied and deep understanding of different parts of engineering, from CAD and electrical installations to plant maintenance, whilst also studying undergraduate day-release courses at college/university.
“Having benefited so much myself I would definitely recommend young people to apply for an apprenticeship. The practical, hands on experience gained alongside academic study – whilst also earning a good salary – is an amazing way to develop and learn. As an apprentice you are treated as part of the team from the beginning in a supporting, nurturing environment. Most of the apprenticeship supervisors and managers are ex-apprentices themselves so know what to expect and give to help you develop.
"It was a complete surprise to find out I had been nominated for the OA Awards. I’ve worked really hard over the last few years to develop myself and to try and do as much outreach as possible so it was a great feeling to be recognised.
"Winning the Shining Star Award felt amazing. It was a really good feeling that all the hard work and perseverance over the last few years is being recognised and appreciated, not only by my employer but also in the wider engineering community.
"I would say to anyone thinking of entering or nominating someone for an award to go for it. Self-nomination is a great way to showcase your hard work and development and can help identify any areas to work on, and nominating someone will make the person feel great and will help motivate them to continue their hard work. There is nothing to lose by nominating yourself or someone else."
In addition to Barry's success in the Shining Star Award, his employer UKAEA was Highly Commended in the Large Apprenticeship Employer Award.
Do you know a former apprentice who has demonstrated significant achievements, both in their professional life and as a person, through making the most of the opportunities given to them as an apprentice? The Shining Star Award recognises an individual who has made a real difference to their workplace, has further potential and is a real inspiration to others - this category will be opening for entries along with the rest of the Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards categories later on this year. Keep an eye on our website and social media for further details.