QUATTRO APPRENTICE JOURNEY FROM FILLETING TO FITTING: Charlie Woodage switches chef knife for ratchet spanner at 29



From an early age, Charlie Woodage liked nothing more than taking things apart.  As a curious boy he’d spend hours at the family dining table in Barnstaple dismantling a mechanical clock to figure out how all the tiny pieces connected together.  He’d remove wheels from toy cars and take a screwdriver to his games console to separate the parts and repair it.  He was, in effect, a boyhood engineer but by the time he reached adult life, he found himself on a different path; as a chef.

‘I moved to Exeter at 19 and started work as a barman at one of the local bars’, says Charlie.  ‘From there I progressed into the kitchen to work as a chef then a head chef.  I was preparing many different dishes including ‘Poutine’, a Canadian street food that combined halloumi, ham, chips, and gravy!  It sounds messy but it was tasty.  After a period of time I realised I wasn’t happy and I didn’t like my job; I had gone as far as I could.  I always wanted to be an engineer, and I kicked myself for making stupid decisions.  I didn’t follow though at school and my grades were not the best. After some reflection I talked it through with my wife, Becky, and decided to try to become an apprentice.  I thought, I’m 25, it’s now or never!’

Charlie’s pivotal moment came when he plucked up the courage to attend an engineering/manufacturing open day at Exeter College where he met Quattro’s Sarah Bartlett and Trevor Hartnett.

‘It was an industry meet and greet for prospective apprentice candidates and we had many visits to our stand’, explains HR Advisor, Sarah Bartlett.  ‘Charlie stood out, he really did.  He was keen and asked questions.  He made himself known to us, shook hands and presented his CV.  I think he was worried that no-one would take a chance on him because of his age; he thought he was too old.  We said to him your age doesn’t matter to us, if you’re the right candidate, that’s all we care about.  He came back later that day, and we were impressed, even before interview stage.  Trevor and I knew he would do well at Quattro, and were keen to meet him again.  We are so incredibly proud of him now.’

Charlie recollects his visit with Sarah and Trevor fondly:  ‘I had been around other manufacturing companies.  I came to Quattro and Trevor made the rail fitter job sound really difficult!  But to me it sounded better and more challenging than any kind of production line.  The way he described it I just thought, this sounds like a great big puzzle!’

‘You could say we took a gamble on an older apprentice’, says Trevor Hartnett, Regional Director, ‘But it was his attitude - positive, enthusiastic, bright.  Charlie was eager to learn and to better himself, and he did, with distinction.  If it was a gamble, it paid off, as three years later we’ve got ourselves a cracking railway fitter.’

Charlie used his age and experience as an advantage: ‘With no experience, I was determined to prove to them that I was reliable and had a good work ethic based on where I had worked before. I saw them again for the third time that day and spoke to Sarah.  She said I could apply on the website.  I really wanted to but when I thought it all out I realised I didn’t have a car to get to Liverton.  I had no way to get there, I just couldn’t afford it.  Thankfully I got a call for an interview and my brother sorted me out with a cheap car.  My family were really supportive of the change, my older brother had also gone back to college in his mid 20s. My mum said, ‘If you’re not happy doing what you’re doing it doesn’t make sense to keep doing it and hope to suddenly feel different.’

Charlie qualified with distinctions both in BTEC Level 3 Mechatronics and Maintenance was well as Level 3 NVQ Engineering and Manufacturing. ‘It was really hard, at times I was pulling my hair out’, he says, ‘It’s a hell of a relief it’s over.  I was working two jobs to help pay the mortgage, one at Quattro, one at a restaurant and I also attended college. My wife Becky paid most of the bills.  She was wonderful.  It was a completely chaotic time but we were relieved I was on the right path.’

Taking time to celebrate the achievement after the first pay cheque, Charlie and Becky visited a two-rosette restaurant for dinner and a few rounds of cocktails. Now a fully qualified rail fitter, he feels he still has a lot to learn.  ‘I love that I’m constantly learning at Liverton depot.  Even at the most basic level - everybody seems to have different names for different tools and machines.  I’m like, oh, that’s the same as that, just a different word… Okay!  I will translate!’

Matt Harper, Charlie’s Depot Manager and Chris Swales, Liverton Foreman, both see Charlie as a great fit: ‘We have watched Charlie's skills and knowledge get better and better over the last 3 years. We are all looking forward to seeing his career grow’, says Matt.  His foreman adds, ’I’m not surprised he got distinctions; he’s a clever bloke and can do anything he turns his hand to.  We will take him to the pub for a few pints but if he wants cocktails he’s getting the first round.’

‘I am thrilled that I get to do something I love every day.  The team has been amazing, I want to thank Chris my foreman and Matt my Depot Manager who have been really encouraging and very patient - even when I’ve made mistakes.  The rest of the fitters and the drivers have helped me over the last 3 years by teaching me how to look after Quattro equipment.  Undoubtably it’s a super professional and friendly team and I’ve made some friends along the way. Thanks to Quattro I got the trade I wanted because they had faith in someone a bit older.’

John Murphy, MD, Quattro

‘There’s no age limit to apprenticeship at Quattro.  The sky’s the limit, whatever your years.  Our newest apprentice shows levels of determination and diligence that are to be admired.  Quattro’s ‘Cocktail Charlie’ is on track for a fruitful future!’


Keep an eye on Quattro Plant Vacancies for future apprenticeships.  You can also call us for a chat 0845 900 2999


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