Making the transition from life as a college student to working a full-time job is sometimes difficult in the early months. This particularly applies to those who go straight to college from secondary school. Not everyone follows this route, of course, so have a considerably different experience. One example is Raymond O’Shea, a Graduate Controls Systems Engineer at SL Controls.
Doing an apprenticeship was the path he chose when he finished school. Growing up, Raymond always liked the practical aspects of school work, so it was a natural decision to do something practical when he left.
“When I came out of school I applied for college and apprenticeships, and I did get a place in college,” said Raymond. “I chose to go for the apprenticeship because it was hands-on, and it made more sense to me to get paid while I was learning!”
Raymond began his electrician’s apprenticeship in 2008 with Kirby Group Engineering Ltd. This took him all around Ireland as well as to the UK and France. The sites he worked on included pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities, universities, incinerators, and more.
Introduction to Automation
As part of Raymond’s apprenticeship, he did three-month spells in college. It was during these periods of study that he got his first real taste of PLCs and automation. This sparked an interest in the technology and its potential, and a revised pathway for Raymond’s future career started to form.
He said: “After I finished the apprenticeship I could have applied to Kirby or another employer for a job, but I decided instead to learn more about PLCs and automation. I applied and got into a course at Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT). As I had done the apprenticeship, I was able to skip the first year of the course to go straight into the second year.”
Before that, though, Raymond wanted to travel, so he deferred his college place for a year and headed off to Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. It was mostly a leisure trip, but he did spend some time working as an electrician to help fund his travels.
On his return to Ireland in 2014 he started the three-year course, graduating in 2017 with a first-class honours degree.
Raymond’s time at LIT wasn’t just spent studying, however – he also worked part-time with companies in Limerick providing controls and automation support. This included working with one of SL Controls largest clients.
This work experience in addition to the rest of his track record helped Raymond secure a graduate position with SL Controls. He started working for the company as soon as he left college.
“My experience of the commercial world before starting with SL Controls, and the apprenticeship, has helped me massively,” said Raymond. “I now work on various projects, including with the large client I used to work part-time for directly.
“The work involves using a variety of technologies and I am quickly improving my skillset and gaining experience.
“My goal is to now get more involved in project work as well as working directly with clients to get even more experience, and so I can work more independently.”
What about the hands-on work of an electrician? Does Raymond ever miss that?
“I do sometimes miss the wiring aspect and more hands-on parts of an electrician’s job. As automation engineers, we don’t touch electrics.
“But then I think of the cold winters and the biting rain and, no, I don’t want to be up scaffolding on a building site in bad weather. So, there are parts I miss but there is a lot I don’t miss either.
“The new technologies I work with now are one of the things that really interests me and keeps my attention. Those technologies are part of why I became an automation engineer, and I plan to continue upskilling all the time.”