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Engineering apprentice wins national industry award

A refrigeration engineering apprentice at Eastleigh College has been named ‘National Student of the Year’ at the cooling industry’s annual awards.

Nineteen-year-old Luke Haile, who is in his second year of a three-year Engineering Technician advanced apprenticeship with Fareham-based Lightfoot Defence Ltd, discovered he’d won the coveted title and top cash prize during a special online broadcast event.

The ‘RAC and IOR National Student of the Year’ sets out to honour engineers currently undertaking training that have stood out over the last twelve months or displayed a level of quality or dedication in their work that can address some of the huge challenges facing the industry.  

Eastleigh College lecturer, Shaun Creech, said: “These challenges have been heightened due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has put unprecedented pressures on the employers we work with, as well as our apprentices and students.

“Despite this, our learners are doing brilliantly and we’re delighted that Luke has gained this plaudit. It is absolute testament to his dedicated hard work and aptitude and shows what can be achieved when someone throws themselves into a career they are passionate about.”

On winning the award, Luke said: “I was delighted. I would have loved to attend the awards night in person but understand, in the current circumstances, the need for this to be done online.

“It’s wonderful to be acknowledged in the industry for my hard work. I feel lucky to have an apprenticeship in an exciting field but to have this award is an absolute honour. I couldn't have done it without the enormous support of my colleagues at Lightfoot Defence and lecturers at Eastleigh College.”

Luke, who was inspired to work in refrigeration and air conditioning at just 14 years-old during a week’s work experience at a company specialising in military refrigeration, added: “I believe this award will be beneficial to me for years to come. It’s definitely a great start to my chosen career.”

Lightfoot Defence’s Managing Director and co-owner, Terence Nicholls, said: “If I am honest, I was not surprised when Luke was shortlisted, and obviously delighted that he walked away with the gold medal. His work ethic, willingness to learn and the fact that he has a real interest in the subject matter has now been recognised at the highest level within the industry.

“I am personally delighted for him, and it’s an endorsement that if you apply yourself and work hard it is recognised. As an SME, we work in a very niche part of the industry supplying cutting edge cooling solutions for military applications.

“We’re worked with Eastleigh College for many years but only take on one apprentice a year, so we are very particular about who we take. Luke was the stand out candidate – he is very mature for his age and has a real thirst for knowledge. Bringing him into Lightfoot has proved to be a good decision.”

Terence praised Luke’s particular interest in the environment and how he was heavily involved in Lightfoot’s development of recycling and flushing units for Jet fighters which reduce the CO2 emissions significantly.

Luke added: “My core values lie with innovation and sustainability. I’m interested in the possibility of making the industry, as a whole, greener; reducing the carbon footprint. I would like to look into the development of new gases and into creating more efficient components so that the future gases could be recycled.

“I have always had a passion for engineering and the science behind it. It is exciting working on units that service the RAF Eurofighter typhoons, army Apache helicopters and naval ships offering innovation and niche assistance to an area most wouldn’t think of in the RAC industry.”

As well as winning this prestigious award, Luke successfully competed stage two of the national SkillsFridge industry competition before it was postponed due to Covid-restrictions, and has also been nominated for Eastleigh College’s ‘Apprentice of the Year’ award.

His long term career aspirations lie in research and development, and he is ambitious to complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Heating Air Conditioning and Refrigeration and will use the prize money to continue with his education and invest in some new tools.

Two other engineering apprentices at Eastleigh College were also among the eight students shortlisted from across the UK for the ‘RAC and IOR National Student of the Year’ Award. Gemma Watson who is a second year apprentice with CSS Environment, and Matthew Huckle, who works for EPTA Refrigeration and was awarded third place.

Photo caption: (l-r) Lightfoot Defence Limited's Aerospace Production Manager, Joseph Mills, who is Luke's line manager; apprentice and national award winner, Luke Haile; and Lightfoot's Managing Director and co-owner, Terence Nicholls.