Meet James Newton, who has kickstarted his career at Prodrive on the Graduate Scheme in the Advanced Technology division just a few months back. Here he shares valuable insights from his journey so far as he begins to navigate the exciting realm of real-world design for clients.
What attracted you to a career in Engineering? I studied Maths, Physics and Computing at school and enjoyed the more practical aspects of these subjects more than the conceptual side, mixing all these disciplines led me to engineering. I wanted to work in the automotive sector because of my interest in electric vehicles due to their innovation and importance in creating a carbon-neutral future.
What University did you study at and what course did you study? How does this relate to your work at Prodrive? I studied MEng Robotics at Plymouth University and did a placement year at Triumph Motorcycles. While at University, I learned all the basic electrical concepts and how to apply them practically. By the end of my degree, I could take a brief of desired system functionality, decide the best way to achieve it then actually build it.
This problem-solving approach comes in very useful at Prodrive because every client project is brand new and there is rarely a well-defined solution. I also use the experiences from my placement year every day, be it technical automotive practices or how to integrate into a larger working structure to achieve successful long-term projects.
Tell us in your own words about your start to life at Prodrive.
The Prodrive Graduate Scheme is very different to any others that I applied for, where you would have periodic 6-month placements in different areas of the business. I’ve been immediately put on active projects that I had to contribute to. They expect you to be a useful member of the team but at the same time will allow you to move around projects or roles to find your interest, which is quite a luxury.
What is your role at Prodrive and what does it involve? What’s a typical day in your job? I’m a Graduate Engineer in the Electrical and Electronics department, so I could be doing either Electrical, Electronic or Controls work at any given point. I’ve rarely had a ‘typical’ day where I do the exact same task for multiple days in a row.
Each day can be very different because of the typically short project time scales we work to, and they’re always progressing, so the work you need to achieve on them is always changing.
What sort of projects do you get to work on?
I’ve only been at Prodrive for around 3 months, and I’ve already had to design and build the whole electrical system for a hydraulic pump testing rig and also help develop a ‘last mile’ delivery EV. For the EV, I’ve done everything from writing requirements to simulating the vehicle in Simulink®.
What’s the most exciting part of your job at Prodrive?
The most exciting part of the job is the amount of responsibility you’re given, meaning you have a lot of control over how to solve a problem and this leads to completing a large variety of tasks. As a result, you learn a lot in the process.
Also, the time between design and build at Prodrive is very short so it never feels like you’re working on something that won’t be realised.
What attracted you to Prodrive Advanced Technology? Many things attracted me to Prodrive which made it stand out compared to other companies. The main aspect was its application of a motorsport philosophy to commercial projects, with a ‘can-do’ attitude across varied and creative problems. Another quality was its previous history of designing electric vehicles from scratch which meant I could get real design experience in that field.
Describe the culture in Prodrive Advanced Technology.
Prodrive Advanced Technology has a very friendly culture, everyone has been very nice and kind since I joined. There is also a real push for personal development so if you’re interested in a certain field or workflow, and there is the opportunity, they will let you learn it.
What makes working for Prodrive unique?
The size of the company compared to the size of the projects we complete makes Prodrive unique.
This agility from a relatively small team, means you have more control and responsibility than most other companies, which in turn means you can develop as an engineer much faster.
Describe how your assigned Technical Mentor has helped you.
My technical mentor is Alex, and he also works with me on the ‘last mile’ vehicle project. We have regular catchups about the work I’m doing on the project and what upcoming work would I like to do or find interesting. It is very helpful to have someone like him with a lot of industry experience to bounce ideas off and yet provide some guardrails to make sure I’m going in the correct direction.
There is also a 'Buddy System' as part of the Graduate entry, can you describe how it helps someone new to Prodrive?
My buddy is Duncan, who also started as a graduate last year. It is a great system because it’s informal which makes it easier when you want to ask questions that you may think are basic or you don’t want to bother your manager with. Your buddy is also very useful to ask how to operate within the company to make sure you get the most out of the scheme.
Where do you see the Prodrive Graduate Scheme taking you and what would you like to do in the future?
I can see the graduate scheme taking me further into electric vehicle design. I am also excited as I will get to spend some time in Business Development, which will be very interesting to see how to directly interface with a client and exactly how engineering requirements are formed with them.
What would you say to an Undergraduate researching Graduate Schemes who would like to know about Prodrive or your experience so far?
If you want to learn a lot in a short period with a healthy amount of design freedom, it is an opportunity I’d highly recommend.