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The apprenticeship alternative for neurodiverse candidates

Henry Adu is a controls and instrumentation apprentice at SSE – he shares his story about how his new job helps him gain confidence and overcome a stammer.

I was in secondary school, but it wasn’t really working out well. School had always been difficult for me because I was often bullied about my stammer. I wasn’t really getting the help I needed and it took a toll on my confidence. Instead, I went to New City College (formerly Havering College) and here, I discovered my love of engineering.

Applying for an apprenticeship at SSE made sense. It meant I could study, learn and earn money through working. It seemed like a much better option than trying to get a part-time job while studying. I had been applying for all sorts of jobs and never getting an interview or a call-back, which was frustrating and affected my confidence.

When I was interviewed for the SSE apprenticeship, I was so stressed out, even though I had done all my preparation beforehand, such as practice interviews. As well as my preparation, I let SSE know that I might require a bit of extra time. I stammered a bit at the start, but the interviewer, who is one of the day support engineers, was able to put me at ease. He told me that he had a stammer as a kid and shared some techniques with me to help with the interview, such as standing up, having a drink of water and pausing to breathe.  

As well as helping guide me through the interview, he reassured me that the interview was not about finding faults. Instead, he said the interview is about understanding me and seeing my knowledge.

Afterwards, I thought I was not getting the job, but then I got a call to say my application was successful. It took me completely by surprise and came as a total shock. I am doing a Level 3 apprenticeship in controls and instrumentation. This sets me up on a path to receive BTec and NVQ certificates and the opportunity to go on to a Level 4 apprenticeship, which is like an undergraduate course – or I can keep on working. It is great to have these options.

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The work I have been doing for SSE comes with a lot of responsibility. There is a strong focus on safety systems and protecting the environment. I have to calibrate instruments, test new instruments and make sure they are all in good working order. A lot of our equipment monitors for issues such as water leaks and hazardous gases, which need to be detected quickly so that fast action can be taken if there is a problem. We keep track of all our emissions onsite. I have even worked on a project with the Environment Agency to check on level switches to indicate if pumps have failed.

My manager understands my situation – and he challenges me in positive ways so I can keep improving and becoming more confident. One of the common tasks in this job is to use the radio. This made me nervous at first because as time went on, I became more wary of my stammer, especially if it happened while I was giving out information over the radio, but my manager doesn’t mind. 

He doesn’t pressure me to do things that are out of the ordinary, but the challenges he does give me help me to strive for more. For example, he got me to call a company the other day – it was done in a supportive way, he eased me into it, which was really good. In the past, people would often call me and I would freeze and get scared, so it is great that at SSE, I can get better at these things over time. There is also healthcare support available if I ever feel I need it, including speech therapy. I haven’t had to use it, but it is good to know it’s available for me.

A lot of the communication I do is via email, especially when I keep track of our calibration systems. I really like communicating by email, but it is important to be able to talk over the radio and on the phone with confidence. I am at a stage with my job where I don’t feel as if I am any different to anyone else, I am just another employee who likes to get into work and get stuck into whatever I have to do that day – it’s a good place to be.

Outside of work, I have been learning how to code. It is something I’m interested in and it is something that can be useful at work. Cybersecurity is something I am especially keen to learn more about as hacking is a big problem in our industry. It can cost companies millions of dollars and stop operations, so I would love to be able to help prevent this sort of thing from happening.

And when I am not learning about coding, you can usually find me playing with – or cleaning up after – my younger siblings. I have an 11-year-old brother and two sisters who are six and eight. 

Apprenticeships at SSE