A young apprentice who struggled at school and faced knockbacks from several companies is now thriving at aerospace engineering company Leonardo in Edinburgh and is in the running for a prestigious UK award.
Thomas Sutherland, 23, a fourth-year technical apprentice at Leonardo, works on the Eurofighter Typhoon radar, integrating current and next-generation systems, and has just been announced as a finalist at the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s Apprentice of the Year Award.
He will be attending the awards ceremony in London, hosted by TV presenter Ortis Deley on October 24, when the winner will be announced.
Thomas, who grew up in Uphall, West Lothian, is the first to admit that in his younger years he struggled to see his own potential and felt frustrated by his academic performance at Broxburn Academy.
He said: “At school I studied STEM subjects such as physics, product design, craft design technology and graphic communication.
“I really enjoyed all of these subjects, as they allowed me to use my technical ability in a creative way. But when it came to revising for the exams however, I struggled to focus, which led to poor results.”
After studying an HNC in Mechanical Engineering at college, Thomas felt that an apprenticeship would provide him with the ideal mix of hands-on training coupled with academic learning. But he found that competition for apprenticeships was fierce and he faced a series of knockbacks after attending a number of interviews. Then there came a turning point when everything changed.
He said: “I was in my room feeling really fed up and decided that I was going to take a chance and write down what I really wanted to achieve in life.
“I got out a pen and wrote out in massive letters ‘Get an Apprenticeship’. At the time it felt unlikely, but soon after I got an apprenticeship with Leonardo.
“There I’ve met colleagues on my apprenticeship and mentors in management who have encouraged me to believe in myself and expect more from myself.”
After senior management identified his technical and leadership talents, he secured a university place and was put on a tailored internal development programme, accelerating him to engineering leadership roles.
Reflecting on what other young people who have recently received exam results might be going through, Thomas said: “If you’d asked me a few years ago if I thought would achieve any of this the answer would be ‘no’, but I realise now that I just needed to change the way I thought.
“If my story helps even one young person who is at a crossroads after receiving exam results that disappointed them, then I’d be delighted. I’m proof that you don’t just get one chance, you can always find a way through and another opportunity if you keep going.”