From the RAF to teaching – Les Potter shares his journey and choosing a career in STEM

In recent years, there’s been an increasing need for qualified teachers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

For many professionals, teaching in further or higher education is often a second career following a specialist role in industry. Educators in STEM have long been considered a huge influence on a student’s choice of subject matter or their decision to pursue a STEM career due to their knowledge and expertise. 

Former General Technician Electrical, Production Controller, Les Potter, now deputy head of Cultural, Contemporary and Heritage Studies at Harrogate College, first identified his passion for engineering after a day out in Goole when he considered joining the Royal Air Force (RAF).

15 years down the line, as an Electrical Engineering Supervisor, Les discovered that he wanted to empower and help young apprentices to gain electrical knowledge. This resulted in him moving to  No 4 School of Technical Training at RAF St Athan, South Glamorgan (4SofTT) to train RAF Apprentices. As his role expanded, he supported apprentices through  training courses in electrical, mechanical and motor vehicle.

We spoke to Les to find out more about his role and his teaching journey.

What is your specific area of STEM?

My specific area of STEM is electrical/electronic engineering.

What made you pursue a career in STEM?

I went to the Careers Information Office (CIO) in Goole to join the RAF as an electrician. After an aptitude test, they showed me several types of electricians and I chose to become a General Mechanic Electrical – specialising in electrical repair and maintenance.

While training apprentices at 4SofTT, I gained my Certificate in Education (CertEd) along with certificates for maintaining and training staff on specialist equipment . I also continued to assess apprentices in the workplace until I left in 2008.

I joined Doncaster College immediately after leaving the service to assess and teach apprentices on Level 2 and 3 courses in electrical and electronic trades along with electrical installation. This experience helped me  develop my knowledge and skills, keeping up-to-date with wiring regulations, my trade skills and gaining my internal verifier award. I also attended an underground close supervision course with the mines rescue service to allow me to assess apprentices working underground in the coal industry. 

What responsibilities does your current job entail?

I currently manage the curriculum and the departmental staff, ensuring learners are on the right programmes and that they have staff to teach them, resources to use and technicians to support. This is a demanding job, making sure all aspects are available and includes maintaining the current curriculum as well as developing the curriculum for the following year.

What are some of the lessons or elements of your job that have inspired you and contributed to your success so far?

I enjoy the challenge of problem solving. This in itself allows you to be creative and I think from a critical point of view, it allows you  to come up with solutions that work for both you and the team.

What keeps you motivated?

Supportive managers and willing staff and learners. Knowing that the learner comes to us with little or no knowledge in a subject and has the opportunity to progress through our qualifications on to university, an apprenticeship or full-time work.

What are your overall career ambitions?

I would like to stay in education until I retire and progress as far as I possibly can in that time.

What message would you give to those wanting to pursue a career in STEM and why would you recommend Harrogate College as a place to work?

All industries that involve STEM are challenging and keep the mind healthy. They provide numerous opportunities for work, learning and travel. They can also be lucrative for those using their initiative and STEM skills to push themselves forward. To ensure you gain those baseline and upwards qualifications, Harrogate College has a wide range of STEM qualifications, enabling learners of all levels and skills to drive themselves forward into STEM. The staff are extremely knowledgeable and helpful, giving anyone wanting to progress the best opportunity to succeed.

Adult learner fulfills desire to help others

The need to help others is one that mature student, Alan Stukins, was incredibly keen to pursue. 

Although Alan had been self-employed for many years, he decided to switch priorities from chasing profits to learning how to help people in their time of need. 

With the hope of becoming a paramedic, Alan chose to study the Access to Higher Education Diploma in Health Science Professions.

Finding the right path

Alan has worked in various roles over the past years, but struggled to feel fulfilled by the work he was doing.

“In my previous roles, I felt I was not reaching my full potential. I have been self-employed for a few years, however I felt I had lost part of who I was in constantly chasing profits and struggling to pay the bills. 

“I had always dreamed of becoming a paramedic, knowing that I could make a positive impact on people’s lives and feeling like I’ve made a difference. 

“Returning to education after many years has given me time to reflect. When I was younger, I lacked direction and motivation. However, now at 39 years old, I feel ready to completely change course and pursue a career that I’m excited about.”

Never too late to learn 

When Alan was younger, he felt unable to attend university due to his lack of formal qualifications. 

“Although it’s a daunting step to take, I thought that rather than being 45 and still feeling held back and unhappy with my job, I should go back to education so I can follow the career path I really want.

“I have really enjoyed meeting my classmates at Harrogate College. It’s great to see a range of students from different backgrounds and ages, who are all really supportive and friendly. It’s been fascinating to get back into practical science work; each session is so engaging and the study and research skills I’ve learnt are invaluable.

“The Access course provides a great introduction to things like Harvard referencing, self-directed study and planning scientific assignments. It will prepare me very well for the transition to university, so that I can go on to succeed in the profession.”

Continuing the academic journey

After completing his Access course, Alan hopes to study at university and then work within the ambulance service. 

“Once I’ve completed university, I hope to be an ambulance service paramedic for a few years. After that, I’m open to moving around within that field or returning to university to research and teach. 

“Coming back to college has made me so excited to learn; I can now focus on what I’m passionate about, rather than worrying about income from being self-employed. 

“My biggest achievement has been my ability to commit enough time to studying to get good grades while battling a reduced income from my business due to the pandemic.”

Find out more about the Access to Higher Education Health Science Professions course here.

Harrogate College celebrates Apprenticeship Week

National Apprenticeship Week Harrogate
National Apprenticeship Week Harrogate

National Apprenticeship Week is fast approaching and Harrogate College will be joining the celebrations again this year.

It will have a stand at the Leeds Apprenticeship Recruitment Fair (LARF) taking place at Leeds Direct Arena on Monday 3 February.

LARF is the largest apprenticeship exhibition in the north and the college will be among approximately 100 companies recruiting apprentices.

Harrogate College offers a wide range of apprenticeships at every level, from entry to degree. Successful candidates split their time between work and college, combining learning, earning and gaining experience needed to develop throughout their career.

The college will also be running an apprenticeship roadshow at its campus on 5 February.

The Apprenticeship team will be available to talk to potential apprentices about the steps involved, as well as information for employers looking to take on an apprentice.

Lee Pryor, Director of Apprenticeships at Harrogate College said: “We’re are excited to be getting involved in the Leeds Apprenticeship Recruitment Fair that brings together leading companies to offer potential apprentices opportunities to kick-start their careers.

“Employers are also at the heart of what we do and will gain insight and information on how we can work together to bridge the skills gap in a number of sectors. This includes engineering, health and social care, digital & IT and more.”

Pryor added: We are committed to bringing employers and young people together to provide real opportunities for them to find out what career path they want to take and to help employers find the right candidates for their organisations.”

National Apprenticeship Week 2020 is running until 9 February this year. For the first time, the week has been extended to include the weekend, giving the entire apprenticeship community more opportunity to get involved with activities.

See bus schedule below:

Wednesday 5 February

Harrogate College

9am – 2pm