Sam Biddleston hasn’t looked back since she swapped psychology for strain gauges and stress analysers.
The savvy 17-year-old from Sprotborough is one of six apprentices in the latest intake at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and the face of this year’s Global Manufacturing Festival.
Sam’s interest in engineering was sparked by her dad, Shane, a technician in the AMRC’s advanced structural testing centre.
“He was always trying to get me involved, fiddling with the car and bits and pieces,” she recalls.
Her interest developed further when she went to Ridgewood School, in Doncaster, which specialises in engineering and applied learning.
“They had lathes, pillar drills, a laser cutter, a miller and a special CAD (Computer Aided Design) room.
“They introduced you to it bit by bit. You didn’t have to do it unless you chose to – until year 10, when you had to take engineering or construction as a subject. I chose engineering because it was more interesting,” she says.
Sam flirted with the idea of going to university to study psychology while she was finishing her education in the sixth form at Hall Cross Academy.
“I liked it, but there is only so much that you can do with a psychology degree and I just felt there was something missing.
“When my dad suggested going for an apprenticeship, I thought that would be interesting. It’s turned out to be more interesting than psychology because engineering is changing all the time and you have got to keep up with it. In engineering you are always striving to make better things.”
Sam says some people have a negative attitude to women in engineering and her mates simply think her career choice is “weird.”
“There aren’t many girls in engineering and some people are a bit funny about it,” says Sam.
“I don’t know whether it’s because we’re better than them. They say that in composites they find females better at carbon fibre lay ups because they are more precise.
“Most of my mates are at sixth form college. They think it’s weird because I don’t look like the sort of person they imagine does engineering. They don’t know what it is about.”
The one thing that hasn’t got lost on them, or Sam, is that she is getting paid while she learns.
“I’ve gone from saying ‘Mum, can I have £2 for the bus’ to saying ‘Mum, do you want £20,’” says Sam.
Training at the AMRC is certainly different from school.
“You have the opportunity to try so many different things. It was a big step at first, but I am getting used to it and I’m learning different things all the time.
“In school, if you did it wrong, you just started again, but, if you do that here its thousands of pounds down the drain,” says Sam, who has a particular passion for welding.
“There’s something about welding,” she says.
“We did a bit of oxyacetylene welding in school, but the teacher set it up, you just held a piece of pipe and then he took it off you.
“I like welding because it’s more ‘hands on.’
“You get to see it as you are doing it. It’s different from turning a machine on.”
College is a challenge – but more because of the volume of work than the difficulty, says Sam, who hopes to study for a BTEC vocational qualification before going on to an HNC, HND and then a degree.
Sam’s still interested in psychology, but has no regrets about choosing engineering.
“I know someone who did psychology…and now they’re working in a call centre,” she says.