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.