He’s one of 4 Normans to join the French team for the international WorldSkills competition in September 2024: 20 year old Thiaifène, an apprentice at Mont-Blanc in Manche, will champion Normandy’s expertise in industrial maintenance. Let’s take a look at multiple perspectives of a popular trade in the area with Vincent Bettin, his HND teacher at IUMM Grand Ouest, in Caen. 

Can you tell us more about the job? What does it involve?

Vincent: I often tell the students that it’s a bit like being a doctor in manufacturing: the maintenance trade involves looking after a fleet of machinery to ensure a company’s systems are capable of completing their tasks. 

Thiaifène: It’s a job that involves lots of different trades: you have to do a bit of a boilermaking, machining, mechanics, automation engineering, electricals etc. You have to repair, maintain and make specific industrial systems. 

What do you like about your job?

Thiaifène: I like that you never know what’s going to happen during the day. I like how you have to push yourself too, because we work under pressure: you can earn a lot of money.

Vincent: Every day is different and there are always challenges. When I tell students about working in maintenance, I describe it like an escape room. There’s a problem, but after you think about it, the solution you come up with is a bit like when you escape the room: you tend to feel proud and happy. It’s the playful side of diagnosis and repairs that’s enticing.

"I was an apprentice too and I've always had apprentices working alongside me. Over time, I loved teaching so much that I decided to just stick to that. I applied to work at the CFAI training centre in Caen at IUMM in Caen and I've been here for 6 years.

Which qualities do you have to have to work in this job?

Thiaifène: I’d say communication, diligence and organisation.

Vincent: Yes, and you need to be curious and enjoy problem solving. Identifying a fault and repairing it is all well and good, but you need to understand why it’s happened and stop it happening again.

I want to start my own subcontracting company. Next year I want to continue my automation degree. And work as a consultant for companies that need maintenance.

How do you think the job will change in the future?

Thiaifène: It’s a modern trade: it’s made a massive technological leap in the space of 15 years. It can change in a matter of months if you think about software changes for example. We’ve moved from an entirely mechanical industry to robotics, automation, digital… It’s constantly changing. It’s exciting. 

Vincent: The trade is constantly evolving – systems communicate with each other, faults appear on-screen… that’s how it is now. My only concern is that we’re neglecting the engineering side of it, the building blocks of the trade. I think we need to keep that balance so we can handle any fault.

How was the test at the regional competition? What does your training involve?

I wanted a gold medal for the regional and national trials – I want the same for the upcoming international competition too.

Thiaifène: It went very well but it did take its toll emotionally. I had two and a half days of tests. 5 tests lasting 3 hours. Each one tested one aspect of our job. The Normandy team were solid and I’m glad that 3 other Normans are on the French team now. We have to train physically and mentally with the French team to handle the pressure, then there are technical classes to delve deeper into our trade. 

Vincent: I’ve worked with him on little-known areas and was part of the WorldSkills jury in the regionals. The expectations of both the regional and national trials are exactly what we teach the students. Sometimes you’re not sure about what you’re doing so it’s reaffirmed my teaching. It’s reassuring!

Normandy? It makes me want to succeed because I think I've got to this point because of Normandy. After the national medal, I had lots of opportunities to work elsewhere in France and abroad, but I have everything I need right here. I don't need to go anywhere else.

What do you think sets Normandy apart?

Vincent: Normandy has a huge industrial scene with lots of diversity, which means you need maintenance. Even if that means it takes some time to get used to systems or processes that may differ from one industry to the next. It’s part of the job: getting used to the industrial setting you’re working in. Personally, I think it has everything you could want: the sea is nearby, there are rolling and flat landscapes, forest… a bit of everything.

Thiaifène: Normandy inspires the industrial world. The region has been full of different industries for years: nuclear, pharmaceuticals, food, aerospace and more. It’s diverse, varied and covers the entire region. It really is an inspiration in this field.

Maintenance, a calling:

 “School wasn’t really my thing in Year 9. I asked my headteacher about apprenticeships so I could do courses during half term. I had a go at electricity, butchery, masonry… and then I did an apprenticeship at a subcontracting company owned by my best friend’s dad at the end of Year 9. I spent my entire holiday there and after my apprenticeship report in Year 10, he offered me a Baccalaureate apprenticeship. Everything clicked into place for me then!”

 

Did you know? In Normandy, the Agence régionale de l’Orientation et des Métiers can issue work experience agreements. Through the Destination Métier website, the agency offers visitors the chance to discover exciting careers, spend 3 to 5 days immersed in a professional environment or meet a career ambassador.

Vincent, how would you convince young men and women to have a go at this job?

Vincent: You know, more and more young women are training in it. I’m all for it: the trade needs a feminine approach as women work with more precision and foresight. 80% of local companies are hiring: it’s a trade for the future but primarily for the present. Every company, be it an SME or major manufacturer, needs maintenance. There’s work everywhere and the advantage is that you can choose where to work. There are at least 30 courses in the region. In terms of salary, it really depends on the type of industry. Some pay 2000-2005 net when you start your career. Some older companies pay closer to 1400-1500 net. But it’s not all about money: I think it’s better to work in a company where the work is exciting and challenges you but is slightly less well paid, than a company with a better salary but repetitive work.


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