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Mhairi Fraser, apprentice process automation developer

If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that we’ll need to find new ways of working if we’re to address the unexpected and unprecedented challenges we face. We’re collaborating with our partners across industry to identify smarter, greener, and more efficient solutions. That includes working with apprentices at the School of Automation (SoA) in Glasgow to develop technologies such as robotic process automation. We recently spoke to Mhairi Fraser, who is a Process Automation Developer at the SoA, about her training and her work, and about a data-crunching bot the students call ‘Keith’.

Female apprentice sitting at desk with laptop

Many of us will have heard the term, ‘automation’. But what does a process automation developer do?

We help organisations change the way they work, to make them more efficient. We look at their existing manual processes and ask: can they be automated? And what is the best way to automate them? Sometimes, a company can save time and money by using technology to carry out repetitive tasks, like inputting data into a spreadsheet.

We develop software to do those jobs, and work with our client to test it, and address any issues we weren’t aware of when we were coding it. To be honest, I’d never heard of anything like this before I started researching automation in preparation for this role. Now I’m able to explain the concept to my Gran, who can’t even use a smartphone!

 

So, why did you choose to undertake an apprenticeship in this field?

I was really interested in computer science and I was in one of the first computer science classes at my school. But I wasn’t sure what to do after that. University seemed like the most logical path, so I considered studying computing at that higher level, but eventually started a maths degree. Just a few months into it, I realised that it wasn’t the right path for me.

One of my hobbies is costume making, and I was planning to study fashion at college, in the hope of moving into that industry. Then, during the first lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, my Mum, who is a teacher, saw an advertisement for an automation apprenticeship and said she thought it looked interesting. I followed up on it, and am really pleased I did!

Even when I considered studying computing at university, I think my view was that I would go into teaching, like my Mum. I couldn’t really see myself doing anything else. Now that I’ve started this training, and I’m learning new things and gaining hands-on experience, I’ve found that I can now see myself doing something. I may never have stumbled across the opportunity if circumstances were different. It feels strange that I’ve found something that’s such a perfect fit for me.

 

What does your training involve?

A lot of the training we’re doing at the moment is to achieve qualifications in the software we use, which is called UiPath. But we also get involved in real-life projects. In that case, we start the day with a call with everyone who’s involved in the project. We check-in and discuss our progress on the project, and we raise any issues we’ve encountered. On a couple of occasions, I’ve hit a stumbling block but a colleague from another part of the project has faced the same challenges, so they’ve been able to tell me you how to fix it. I’ve done the same for others at various points.

We’ve been working from home a lot because of the pandemic but we go into the office when we can. The routine changes depending on the circumstances.

 

What can you tell us about ‘Keith’?

I was one of the developers working on a project with Costain. We used the information gathered from number plates, for example the type of vehicle, what fuel it used, and the level of emissions it produces, to help to track the carbon emissions of its fleet. We called this carbon capture bot ’Keith’.

We worked to a tight deadline to deliver this. We were given the project as a challenge on a Friday, started work on it on Monday, and had it ready to present to Costain on Friday. The bot made the process much more efficient. When it’s implemented, it will save people a lot of time but still enable them to oversee the process as Keith tracks the carbon footprint of Costain’s company car fleet, effortlessly.

 

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working towards the first of two certifications for UiPath, which will help me demonstrate my competence in this software. After I finish my apprenticeship in a year’s time I’d like to stay in the automation industry. They may even be opportunities to train other people in automation.

Having said that, it’s amazing to think how much my goals and ambitions have changed in the past six months, so it will be interesting to see what the future brings.


Learn more about RPA and the School of Automation in Glasgow by visiting its website.