Ten years on from starting his apprenticeship, Lewis Solway found himself walking back through the academy doors - but this time to lead the team. Read on to find out more about Lewis’s background and what he does now…
How did your career journey start?
I’ll always remember walking out of my school hall, GCSE results in my hand, thinking to myself – I’ll be back in September to start Sixth Form. I mean, what other choices did I have? However, during my first year in Sixth Form I realised I had a problem. It wasn’t the subjects, but it was the environment – I was ready for work. I had been working part-time alongside my studies at a local supermarket and had begun to really enjoy the customer engagement, teamwork with my colleagues and the extra responsibilities I had already started to take on.
When I was younger, my Grandpa owned his own successful air conditioning company and I used to enjoy spending time with him installing the systems in his house or visiting his team in their offices. So, when I noticed that British Gas were advertising for an apprenticeship in my local area – I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do!
What happened after you applied for your apprenticeship?
A couple of weeks after applying I received a phone call to invite me to an interview in Leeds on a Monday morning. I didn’t want to risk being late so my Dad and I booked a B&B the night before. We had a deal, if I was successful, he would pay the bill but if I wasn’t then I’d owe him the money. Thankfully, I won!
Fast-forward six months and I was travelling to Leicester to attend one of our industry leading academies for the first day of my apprenticeship. I had turned 18 just two days before and I knew what a fantastic opportunity I had been given. I still remember walking into the academy for the first time very clearly – what an incredible facility to work and learn in.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Some people may look at working for large organisations and be put off due to the scale of them and the potential for frequent change. The truth is though, if I hadn’t changed, grown and developed from the shy 18-year old who sat silently in a room on day one, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. All that development has been from the support and opportunities an apprenticeship with Centrica can provide.
How did you find your apprenticeship?
During my apprenticeship, my time was split between the Leicester Academy and out in the field with my mentor. Within the academy I developed all of the core skills required for my future role as a technical engineer. During my field experience I was then able to work alongside my mentor to transfer my newly developed skills into the real world environment within our customers homes. My local team were brilliant and I’ll never forget the support they provided me during the early stages of my career.
You’ve been with British Gas for 10 years! Why so long?!
At 28, not many of my friends have spent over 10 years working for the same company. The reason why I’ve never left is simple - there are very few other companies who can offer the varied career progression that Centrica can. Your apprenticeship will just be the start of your journey with the company and since completing mine I’ve developed within many different roles.
What has your journey been over the last 10 years?
I first progressed from the engineering role at 22 when I became a safety assurance engineer. Within this role, I was fortunate to work with leaders across the South West Midlands, as well as 122 local engineers who I supported with their ongoing development of technical and personal safety.
I was extremely proud that in 2017, thanks to all of the team’s support and guidance, I was announced as the winner of the ‘UK Field Operations Safety Assurance Engineer of the Year’ Award. Shortly after winning, I progressed into my first leadership role as a health and safety manager, before moving into regional management in 2019, where I returned to lead the team which I’d previously worked in.
In October last year, a secondment became available which I simply couldn’t ignore. I was extremely lucky to return to the Leicester Academy, 10 years after walking through the doors on day one, only this time I was there to lead the team. On Monday 15th March 2021, my team and I welcomed our first group of smart energy apprentices through the doors on their first day. It was an incredibly proud moment and I felt extremely fortunate to work alongside my team to create an environment for the apprentices to develop in and to be able to pass on some of the valuable lessons I’d learnt along the way to help set them up for a long and successful career here too.
What would your top advice be?
If you’ve recently picked up your exam results and are unsure on what to do next, I highly recommend you look for an apprenticeship on the Centrica careers page. The only regret I have 10 years later is that I didn’t start my apprenticeship sooner.