Provek celebrates GKN’s first cohort completing the apprenticeship

Lewis GKN

Lewis Alder, GKN Aerospace, has recently passed Provek's Associate Project Manager apprenticeship programme

Lewis Alder, Engineer in Charge (Additive Manufacturing) at GKN Aerospace, has successfully completed the 13-month Associate Project Manager apprenticeship programme with Provek. We spoke to Lewis to gain an insight into the successes and challenges of the apprenticeship programme from an apprentices point of view, producing tips and advice for apprentices beginning the programme.


Can you provide a brief overview of your previous education and job roles?

I studied Production Engineering and Engineering Mathematics at HNC level and was fortunate enough to begin my career very early on as a Design Trainee in 2001. After gaining several years’ experience I was given the opportunity to work within IT as an applications specialist which allowed me to see another side of the business, how this operates and how this integrates with the wider departments. I advanced as the Training & Business Administrator for our widely used PDM/PLM system which provided me with a wealth of process & governance experience across the entire business. Since 2012 I have been back within the Engineering function as a key integrator on several high-profile programmes managing the digitisation, configuration, change and requirement aspects and more recently (2015) as Engineer in Charge, now managing the project deliverables of those programmes”..


How did your career take you to your current role?

“Very simple, it has been a natural progression and I have often said I’ve been organically grown within GKN. Being enthusiastic in everything I do – being able to listen, act and do whilst being adaptable – has allowed those senior than me to give me opportunities I would never of gone for myself (or importantly believed I was capable of doing). These opportunities since joining in 2001 have developed me as an individual, provided me with an exceptional grounding and importantly, instilled a level of trust between me and the people I work for and with; ultimately I’m here to do a good job”..


What is your current job role?

“By title I’m an Engineer in Charge and I am responsible for the overall management of projects under my remit. This includes managing the engineering project team, planning and scheduling, prioritising engineering tasks, stakeholder management, change and risk management, requirements and whatever else the project(s) throw at me”..


What is an average day in your role like?

“Planning, planning and more planning. Well no, that’s not strictly true; a plan can only be as effective as the information used to generate it and the confidence it can be achieved from the people tasked to do this, so most of my day is re-affirming the tasks, engaging with the engineering teams and ensuring I am enabling them to do their jobs. This, at times, may be as simple as a quick 5-minute discussion at their desks, or whilst walking through the office to longer more formal drumbeats, where more technical discussions or agreements need to take place. Making sure we are ALL following our processes is a common daily task as ultimately if I’m audited I need to ensure we do things correctly. Making sure I get everything in writing is a daily occurrence, I’m renowned for writing a mean email (or 5)”..


What do you most enjoy about your job?

“No day is ultimately the same so it keeps me on my toes. Definitely when a project hits a brick wall (which they all do at times) engineering a solution and seeing this through provides an important sense of purpose, not just for me but the project team. I am constantly learning and this job gives me plenty of avenues to further explore”..


Why did you decide to go on the Associate Project Manager apprenticeship? What benefits did you perceive it would offer you?

“For me, the apprenticeship seemed an appropriate way for me to learn, gain the relevant knowledge and importantly be able to utilise this in my working environment, whilst recognising I had a full-time job and a young family to contend with. It seemed to be an ideal balance, given my own personal circumstances and where I thought I was in terms of exposure to “project management”. I have often sought validation in most things I’ve done ever since being a child, fast-forward several decades I’m still doing the same. I felt this apprenticeship would provide me the validation (through qualification) that I’ve felt I’ve needed for a long time”..


What parts of the programme did you find the most useful during the apprenticeship?

“The programme (to me) relies on engaging people so the workshops, getting people together, having open discussions really helps you to explore and test your own surroundings, your own understanding and in most cases, your application versus others in the company. It’s a massive lessons learnt to be perfectly honest and something I’ve personally set myself a challenge to instil back into the business and assist the next GKN cohort where possible”..


What were the challenges that you faced during the apprenticeship?

“Time management and ensuring you physically dedicate time is a real risk, as recognising you have 13-months is a false sense of security. Given that 4 months into my journey on the programme I was a father again at 37 certainly was a testing time, but in keeping with the essence of project-management I already highlighted this as a risk very early on with my tutor. Luckily the lack of sleep allowed me to capitalise on time I never knew existed, but joking aside, having a plan that you keep to and having a routine makes everything more manageable”..



Associate Project Manager

Based on these challenges, can you give any advice to delegates on the apprenticeship?

“The apprenticeship is very clearly a commitment that you sign up to and I signed the contract knowing I was able to satisfy what was expected of me, whatever this took. I had already done some preparation work upfront so understood what time I had available, what may need to change in my working week and even considered time (quite rightly) outside of work and what this may impact. Once I understood my constraints I was able to plan my time fairly robustly and importantly, this was agreed by my line manager as to avoid any conflict. However, this was my approach and it worked for me in this instance, but definitely being open to yourself, what do want to achieve and what you “can” realistically achieve is something you need to determine”..


How has the apprenticeship benefited you?

a) In the way you manage projects moving forward

“Since completing the programme I’ve certainly noticed an increase of confidence in myself. I am certainly much more aware of the relationships governed within project management and I feel more empowered and in control, rather than always being reactive. I am able to conduct myself with reference, such that where this doesn’t exist within the constraints of a quality system (as an example), I am not having to invent something but rather use PM principles to help my judgement”..


b) In creating career opportunities

“I’ve often thought experience does only get you so far, so by having a qualification and the validation I’ve gained through the programme, I’m much more aware of what is available to me and not afraid to consider pursuing roles that I’ve previously thought are beyond me. I think it’s clear that opportunities have often found me, but I feel far better placed to go and seek opportunities now, which is a nice feeling to have. I do certainly believe by having a recognised qualification makes me a more attractive individual and asset to the business”..


Anything else not covered in a) and b)

“Being able to reflect and share with other GKN apprentices’ as well as industry professionals, even during the EPA, does put a few things into perspective. I was not aware of the scale of project management and the community that exists outside of industry. It’s something I will be investigating further”..


How was your experience with your tutor?

“My tutor has been patient, understanding and extremely supportive. The delivery of the workshops has been excellent and I genuinely believe without this it would have been very difficult to remain motivated and focused on the end goal”..


How was your experience with Provek?

“Excellent, without deliberately name dropping both Shannon Douglas and my learning mentor Mike Warren were extremely helpful throughout and they wanted you to succeed, which is half the battle and sometimes a good motivator”..


Is there anything you would suggest Provek could change to improve the programme?

“Though I was proactive, piecing together a plan around what I believed the programme looked like in hours of effort, to understand how the business can support in terms of budget (i.e. training) for workshops and time within work I’m pretty sure not everyone on this programme did the same. I think it is imperative that any new apprentices are fully aware of the commitment they need to make (and engineers do tend to work in hours); what this commitment looks like from the provider (Provek), what is expected from the individual (apprentice) and from the organisation (GKN in this instance). I recognised that the programme was refined, certainly after the first few units, and this has been developed into the latest programme the next GKN cohort are working in-line with”..


Any final recommendations/advice to future delegates?

“Just to reiterate the importance of time-management and to some degree I genuinely believe you put in what you get out. I worked within my own constraints and though still tough, I am very happy I got a good result. Not being afraid to ask for help or guidance, to the tutor or even another apprentice, really is something to be promoted and used as ultimately the tag-line going into the new year – specifically for GKN is “One-GKN”; we should be leaders in our own right and help or inspire others if needed”..

Interested in utilising your apprenticeship levy?

Contact us by calling 01635 524620 or email

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