Meet Leigh Worsdale, a former Close Brothers funded apprentice
"It's all about taking the opportunity and giving it a go."
We caught up with Leigh Worsdale, a Close Brothers funded apprentice who talked us through her journey, from building her skillset as an apprentice with The University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (“AMRC”), to managing her own apprentices at Boeing, to now running the family business, Foxwood Diesel.
Leigh’s career began after completing her GCSEs, when she decided to look for an apprenticeship because she preferred not to follow the university route and take on the associated academic pressures. In her words, she was “never a classroom person, I was always someone who liked to tinker.” She preferred the approach of gaining practical experience while earning a wage to the finality of exams, and jokingly added that she was “the only 16-year-old with money in her pocket.”
The early days
After seeing an article about the Close Brothers SME Apprenticeship Programme at the AMRC, her father advised her to explore this as an option, which she subsequently did, attending several interviews.
At around the same time, Leigh also started working for her father’s company, Foxwood Diesel, a Chesterfield based company that manufactures and repairs diesel engines.
Leigh speaks fondly about the skills she developed during her time as an apprentice as well as the challenges she encountered along the way. Most notably, Leigh attributes her success to her ability to take on challenges with a positive mindset, something that did not necessarily come naturally to her: “I think every part of my journey can be linked back to just saying ‘yes’ to everything, even when I did not know how to do something. It's all about taking the opportunity and giving it a go.”
Speaking about how she developed this attitude, Leigh attributes a large part of it to the culture fostered at the AMRC and the benefits of being surrounded by like-minded people in a collaborative space who challenge each other and learn from one another.
Challenges and rewards
When we asked Leigh about the most challenging and rewarding moments she recalls, it was interesting to find out the two were, in fact, linked. She told us about her initial apprehension of entering a scheme where she was one of just three women in her cohort in a traditionally male-dominated field. This trepidation was eased early on when Leigh was the first in her class to finish a hand-fitting task, which quickly drew the attention of her peers who were curious about how she had completed it so speedily. Leigh’s work at Foxwood, and dedication to the programme, eventually resulted in her being named Apprentice of the Year in 2017, after being encouraged to nominate herself by one of the managers at the training centre.
It was after attending the following year's ceremony as a former winner of the award that Leigh was approached by a leading figure at aerospace giant, Boeing, who offered her a managerial position at the company's new facility in Rotherham. Leigh admits that it was a big jump, going from an apprentice herself to managing a team of 20 apprentices at Boeing. Leigh told us how she passed on her experiences, emphasising the importance of trial and error and getting stuck into every opportunity and networking whenever you can.
Life after apprenticeship
The sudden passing of her father just a few years into her role at Boeing resulted in Leigh returning to the family business, which she chose to continue running alongside her sister. The firm has gone from strength to strength under their leadership, and today employs a workforce of nine.
Looking back, Leigh remembers fondly a childhood spent with her father, who taught her practical skills at a young age, including how to build walls and decorate.
Leigh’s story is now coming full circle, as she tells us Foxwood is looking into employing apprentices of their own because they understand very well how important apprenticeships are in tackling the UK’s skills crisis.
She closes off our interview by reaffirming the importance of taking opportunities and sometimes failing: "An apprenticeship encourages trial and error; you can make mistakes, and you are encouraged to fail along the way so that you know how to fix it next time.”
It was a genuine pleasure to chat with Leigh and we wish her and Foxwood the very best for the future.