A team of 25 apprentices are hard at work bringing superfast broadband to households and businesses the length and breadth of the Digital Durham programme area.
The group is being trained up and given the skills to install and maintain fibre broadband, alongside gaining recognised qualifications over a two and a half year period.
Robert Briggs joined BT’s local network business, Openreach, in September 2014 – attracted by the idea of ‘learning and earning’ on the job, whilst working towardsBTEC Level 3 Certificate in Professional Competence for IT and Telecoms Professionals
Twenty four year-old Robert from Washington, has already gained plenty of experience helping to connect up people’s homes to the new fibre enabled green roadside cabinets.
He said: “I’m doing everything from installing new lines, fixing faults and of course helping to put in fibre broadband. Every day is different. When you turn up at customer’s premises you never know what you’re going to find. I’m a very social person and I like helping people out. When you install someone’s line or fix a fault the customer normally can’t thank you enough – it gives me a lot of personal satisfaction which makes it feel like more than just a job that you’re doing.
“With Openreach I can earn a decent wage and be learning at the same time and know that at the end of my training I can branch out, in different directions if I want to.”
Before joining Openreach, Robert was heading in a very different direction with a degree in sport and a career as a semi-pro footballer playing for Gateshead FC. But time out with serious injury left him thinking about an alternative career with a less risky future.
Robert said: “Jumping from sport to engineering was daunting at first but I’d always had an interest in engineering and enjoyed tinkering with car engines and things like that with my friends.
“I wanted to find a career, something I could enjoy and that would provide me with something that would allow me to progress so I wouldn’t be stuck in one place. The guy who interviewed me had been in ten different jobs in the company over ten years and progressed over that period. If you want to step up then the opportunities are there for you. After the interview I realised it was everything that I wanted to do.”
As well as realising his goal of finding new career, Robert is still able to pursue goals of a different kind after signing up part-time for South Shields football club.
Robert said: “This job allows me the flexibility with my hours to do it so it works out really well for me. My manager is very supportive which is great. They’ll always work something round it with my hours so if I need to take time out to play I can.”
Simon Roberson, BT’s regional partnership director for the North East, said: “Young people like Robert are at the forefront of the fibre revolution that will drive future economic growth across the North East. Superfast broadband is changing for the better the way people communicate, learn to do business and enjoy their spare time.”
Cllr Jane Brown, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for corporate services, said: “It is pleasing to see that our ongoing support of the Digital Durham scheme has helped create fantastic opportunities such as these for local young people as they embark on their careers in the technology industry.”
The Digital Durham broadband programme is delivered by Durham County Council and BT. In total, £34 million has been invested by BT, Durham County Council, Government funding from Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) and public sector partners in Gateshead, Sunderland, South Tyneside, North Tyneside and the Tees Valley.
A second phase of fibre deployment is already planned to begin in July 2016 benefitting an additional 29,000 homes and businesses. By the end of the roll-out, 97 per cent of premises within the programme area will have access to fibre broadband.
For more information about the Digital Durham programme please visit www.digitaldurham.org