Tiffany Cox

‘I’ve just finished my HNC in engineering,’ says Tiffany, ‘and will move onto my HND with Williams next year. Then there’s the possibility of going on for my degree and Masters.’ Tiffany has spent her first two years rotating around sections in Williams’ F1 factory in Grove, Oxfordshire. ‘I’ve done everything from machining to inspection to laminating; in the model shop and 3D printing,’ she says. ‘I’m working with the race team now, on hydraulics.

‘I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for a long time,’ she admits. ‘I did sport throughout my childhood, and I’m still doing athletics. But, when I finished school in year 11, there wasn’t really a career path to becoming an Olympian. I enrolled for a two year course at art school, but I wasn’t impressed with it – art wasn’t going anywhere for me, and I cut it short to one year. But, as part of my course, I had to cooperate with a group of engineers and had a couple of weeks working with them and learning about their working life, and that set me on the path towards becoming an engineer.’

Tiffany settled on a Level 3 advanced engineering course, but stayed for just a month. ‘I had no engineering background,’ she says, ‘and it felt like there wasn’t much teaching going on. I struggled to get the information I needed from teachers.

‘It was my dad who came to me with an advertisement about a new UTC opening in Didcot, specialising in engineering and science. It was a big decision for me to move again, but I applied and was accepted. I continued my engineering course there, and have never regretted it for a second – it’s the best way to learn. The whole UTC is set up in a very work-based way; we wore formal dress, worked working hours and learnt how to communicate with employers, focusing on tasks and projects set by them.

‘It got me ready for where I wanted to go, and working life,’ says Tiffany. ‘I created a good bond with teachers – I came in
late and needed to catch up – so I spent a lot of days staying behind and getting tuition to reach the levels I needed.

‘I admire the teachers for the way they were able to effectively pass across information in a way that the students could understand. They were so visual, I learnt things I’d struggled with at my previous college in a single session.’

UTC Oxfordshire’s industry partners include UK Atomic Energy Authority, Oxford Space Systems Mini Plant Oxford, Bloodhound SSC and Reaction Engines. ‘They got into contact with Williams,’ says Tiffany, ‘which offered students at the UTC three-months of paid work experience. Before
I went to the UTC I’d been unsuccessful applying for an apprenticeship twice, and was hesitant about applying again.

Richard Hurrell, who was my main engineering teacher, was a real inspiration for me. He took me to one side and said “look, you need to really think hard about this. It’s a very big opportunity for you and could be your ticket in.”

With support from her parents and teachers, Tiffany applied for work experience with Williams and was accepted. ‘I did three months of work experience there and got my foot into the door, building good relationships. While there wasn’t something for me straight away at the end of my work experience, my head teacher got in touch with Williams, who offered me a four-year apprenticeship.

‘I can’t stress enough to people how important work experience is. The first two times I applied to Williams I didn’t look much on paper, as I had no engineering background. But doing work experience they got to know me and how I worked, and that opened the door.’

The UTC’s tech environment is good, says Tiffany, ‘but the main thing that appealed to me was that it was very work based, and we had so much contact with employers. It boosted my confidence to speak to these people – they’re so knowledgeable and you’ve got to communicate with them effectively. It pushes you out of your comfort zone, but it makes you realise how accessible people are. I was terrible at talking to people and nervous with presentations beforehand, but working on projects makes you do that.’

Tiffany is also at the forefront of UTC Oxfordshire’s drive to encourage more women to get involved in engineering. ‘Go for work experience,’ she says. ‘Make sure you’re judged by more than what’s on paper. Meet the employers and get out there, or you’ll find it hard to be noticed; build contacts and volunteer. You’ll have close contact to employers and get an insight into working life. UTCs integrate you into work, and how you communicate – it’s the whole life aspect.’