Charlotte Hill joined Openreach as an apprentice in 2016. She hasn’t looked back since. Three years on, the 26-year-old from Idle in Bradford is heading up a team of 18 engineers and is part of the infrastructure group’s Accelerated Leadership programme.
“I saw an apprenticeship as a brilliant way to learn a proper skill, get qualifications and earn a salary throughout,” she said. “University didn’t really appeal to me so when I saw opportunities at Openreach I applied straight away. Occasionally people are surprised when I tell them what I do but to me it’s normal. As a company we really want to encourage more women into engineering jobs and I’d definitely recommend it as a career.”
Joe Taiwo is another young person who decided to pursue a career in engineering. The 24-year-old from Pudsey joined Openreach as an apprentice straight after school after worrying about the cost of university and the potential difficulty in finding a job after graduation.
He said: “I saw joining Openreach as an opportunity to learn on the job and carve out a career by starting at the bottom and working my way up. So far it’s all going to plan and after a short time as an acting manager I am now an operations manager looking after local new recruits, which I thoroughly enjoy. I hope, in the not too distant future, to become an area manager for West Yorkshire. It’s a challenging goal but I know the support and opportunities are there to help me achieve it.”
Openreach is an important investor in Bradford. A year ago, the company launched a pioneering new training centre in the district, investing more than £1m to transform a 1970s office, storage and workshop unit into a state-of-the-art facility and template for Openreach training centres across the UK. At its centre is ‘Open Street’, a replica residential road which provides a safe, real-life environment for trainees to get to grips with everything they need to know to install, maintain, upgrade and expand the networks that we all rely on.
Since the official launch in March 2018, more than 5,500 engineers and new recruits have been trained at the centre. Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford Council, who visited last month, said: “There’s a national shortage of engineers so it’s great to see an infrastructure business like Openreach playing its part and investing in training new talent right here in Bradford.”
I’m told recruitment of trainee engineers is ongoing across West Yorkshire so there will be plenty of opportunities for more young people to follow in the footsteps of Charlotte and Joe. Who knows what the future will hold for them. The accumulation of technical know-how combined with management experience is a powerful one and breeds confidence in young people and their abilities. Future business leaders? I wouldn’t be surprised.
It is estimated that more than 97 per cent of Bradford has access to superfast broadband, which is higher than the national average. Openreach says the future lies in Fibre to the Premises (FTTP), where pure fibre optic cables connect homes and businesses straight to the exchange, and has committed to build this infrastructure to 3 million premises by 2020 with Leeds being among the first locations to go ‘fibre first’. FTTP connections can deliver ultrafast broadband speeds of up to 1Gigabit per second (Gbps) – enough to stream 200 HD videos simultaneously. We look forward to them arriving in Bradford and not before time.
In the meantime, best of luck to Charlotte and co, the young women and men from our district who are equipping themselves with invaluable skills as they install the infrastructure that our businesses will use to grow their products and services, creating jobs and prosperity in the process. Openreach continues its recruitment drive. “In just the past year we have recruited more than 100 trainee engineers locally and we are looking to recruit a further 90 trainee engineers from across West Yorkshire,” said Kim Mears, managing director of Openreach. “We know from past experience that we will have no problem filling those positions with top quality candidates.” To me, that’s a resounding vote of confidence in our young and enterprising population.
• Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club.