6 March 2019 - A Week in the Life of an Apprentice Ambulance Mechanic

1Elsa 28 year old Elsa Whelan from Workington is furthering her career through an apprenticeship with North West Ambulance Service and is set to be the trust’s first female mechanic. 

Coming from a farming background, Elsa already had a keen interest in vehicles and knew that the apprenticeship route was perfect for her as she could gain practical hands-on experience and earn money whilst studying for a Level 3 National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) in Motor Vehicles.

Beginning her four year apprenticeship in November 2018, Elsa works four days a week in the trust’s Distington workshop where she helps service and repair emergency vehicles whilst attending college once a week to study for her qualification.

She says: “I’m really enjoying my apprenticeship so far, I’ve been interested in mechanics and how vehicles work since an early age with some experience from a previous job and on my parent’s farm but working alongside my mentor Shaun, I’m really pleased with how much I’ve progressed in a short space of time.

“I have great laugh in the workshop and have made real friends. I have the best of both worlds as I am earning money and having hands on experience at the same time.  The qualification at the end is the ultimate goal.”

Currently employing 272 apprentices in a wide range of roles including frontline emergency medical technicians as well as ICT, finance and communications, NWAS has been named one of the top performing apprenticeship employers in the country.

Andy Houghton, Area Service Manager for Cumbria said: “Elsa has fitted in well with the team here in Cumbria, I’m really pleased the progress she’s made already. She is keen to learn and is excelling in her studies, I have now encouraged her to take on more responsibility in the workshop to broaden her mechanical knowledge. 

 “When Elsa qualifies, we’re really pleased that she will be the first female apprentice mechanic to do so in the trust.

“Apprentices are a real asset to our Fleet Team and are well supported by their colleagues allowing them to learn from experienced mechanics.  We have found that in the past, the majority have decided to stay with the trust after completing their training.”

Elsa is one of two workshop apprentices that started with the trust in 2018 and the team are looking to further increase their apprenticeships going forward to help develop future mechanics.

Celebrating National Apprentices Week, NWAS will be showcasing ‘a week in the life of’ a number of apprentices and featuring them on their social media pages across the week.

Speaking to other people considering an apprenticeship, Elsa says: “I would advise anyone who is considering an apprenticeship to get stuck in, the best part is that you can earn a wage and work towards a recognised qualification.

“I learn something new every day and there is a lot of support from colleagues who teach you different ways around a problem and you go with whatever works for you.”


Elsa shares her week:





Monday is always a college day. College teaches more of the theory side of the apprenticeship. On Monday I completed my Employer Rights Responsibility (ERR) Section 3 assignment.  I also had a lesson in vehicle electrics and circuit diagrams and drew a circuit diagram for brake lights. The last lesson on a Monday is usually in the workshop, although this week I was typing up a practical assignment on removing and refitting a coil spring.

This week I learnt how to trace and identify components that are involved in making brake lights work.  It’s not just about pressing a brake pedal!


Today started with collecting and delivering vehicles to stations as a driver is on holiday.  When back at workshops I helped my mentor Shaun with a service but the vehicle also had defects on it.  There was occasional ‘drop-on’ work through the day. Working on drop on work gives me the opportunity to get experience on a vast array of jobs.  As these sometimes may be temporary repairs its good knowledge of what is acceptable to keep the vehicle on the road.


Lots of driving today collecting and delivering vehicles for repair, I drove to Penrith, then Carlisle, back to workshops, back to Carlisle.  After this I helped Shaun service a major incident unit (MIU) and I replaced the bushes on the rear anti-roll bar. Working on a heavy goods vehicle such as the MIU is a bit different to an ambulance but the experience was good. 


I also repaired a mirror on an ambulance that popped in for repair as part of ‘drop-on’ work.  This was good as we don’t know what we are repairing until the vehicle is in the workshop.


Today I worked with Shaun on a large 48 week service which took 11 hours!


The vehicle had defects too so I repaired the back lights as there was a broken wire on the rear fog and indicator lamps.  This was interesting as the fault was a broken wire and took time finding the break.


I had a great day today as there are some jobs that put a smile on your face and give you a sense of pride.  Fixing a fault from start to finish and getting a pat on the back is a fantastic feeling!


I also accidentally broke the vehicle lift today with a vehicle on it, whoops. (Thankfully no damage was done and it was quickly fixed!)



As the driver is still on holiday, I did quite a bit of driving today to try and get vehicles back to their stations in time for the weekend. This gives me a chance to get out and about and find out where all the ambulance stations are.  It’s always nice to meet new people and everyone makes me feel welcome!