With estimations of an annual shortfall of up to 59,000 engineering graduates and technicians in the UK alone, the importance of engineering apprenticeships alongside higher education routes has never been more critical. But a lack of understanding about what constitutes an apprenticeship remains. Research from the Engineering Brand Monitor in 2017 showed that 58% of the 11 to 14 year olds they surveyed said they knew little to nothing about what apprentices do or what an apprenticeship was. It seems they were not alone with only 46% of parents surveyed indicating that they knew what an apprenticeship was. To mark National Apprenticeship Week, we took the time to talk to some of those individuals who have participated in engineering apprenticeships, and are now using their experiences to positively impact the future of engineering; from developing and researching life saving artificial intelligence, to sitting on panels that shape future generations engineering education.  

But first, what is an apprenticeship

An apprenticeship, which must last for a minimum of 12 months, combines hands-on work with the opportunity to train and obtain qualifications. It’s also a paid position, so you earn while you learn. At least 20% of your time is set aside for learning, usually at a college, university or training provider.

The rest of your time is spent applying your knowledge and skills in the actual workplace, doing the job that you set out to get. At the end of it, you’ll gain official certification, which will be equivalent to traditional qualifications.”

We spoke to Lloyd, who now works for Goss Structural and a member of the Industrial Advisory Panel at London South Bank University. After feeling defeated by his A Level results, Lloyd began a summer job as a site labourer to save money to go travelling. This was his first exposure to engineering, and became intrigued by what the profession could offer. He went on to intern for the engineering firm for two weeks, and whilst travelling Lloyd volunteered with World Challenges, who partnered on an Engineers Without Borders UK project on the outskirts of Laos, to help build a reinforced concrete building, with woven bamboo walls and hand cut roof rafters from mahogany.

Once he returned to the UK, Lloyd completed a Level 3 National Diploma in Civil Engineering, at Norwich City College. He went on to participate in a Bachelor’s Degree at London South Bank University, as a ‘day release’ student; studying one day at university and four days training whilst employed. This provided the hands-on experience that Lloyd had found compelling about the profession in the first place. He believes putting in the hours both practically and at university pays off in the long run; 

[…] employers get a well-rounded employee with a wealth of experience after graduation. During this time, the employer is able to support and guide their Apprentice, while preparing them for their future role in the industry.”

Another former apprentice, Beth, was similarly enthusiastic about the practical insights her apprenticeship afforded her. Now a PhD student at the University of West London, researching and developing AI in cardiovascular medicine, Beth’s apprenticeship journey began at the age of 17 after feeling uninspired by her A levels. By a stroke of luck, Beth’s mother saw an advertisement in the local newspaper for a ‘Modern Apprenticeship’. Attracting 400 applicants, competition was fierce and the selection process was rigorous. But Beth made it through, and began her National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) in IT and Business Administration, studying one day in college and the other four days working at Nestle in the product technology centre, supporting hardware and software maintenance.

Beth achieved her NVQ in a year and was then offered a full time role, which she did until she realised that to fulfill her own potential she wanted to attend university. However, Beth had plenty of colleagues who didn’t, pointing out that those who entered the business at 17 and 18 years old with an NVQ greatly benefitted, advancing quickly through the organisation. Beth enrolled at York university where the opportunity to study in the US cemented her decision. As Beth’s undergraduate education came to an end, significant reforms were taking place in the British education system regarding science and ICT which interested Beth, and compelled her to study a PGCE at Southampton University.

She began her teaching career getting to grips with the syllabus and getting involved with extracurricular activities, like STEM Fest. After being promoted, Beth became the head of department and built the STEM syllabus from the ground up. She engaged the students by coordinating extracurricular outings, such as travelling to San Francisco to visit the Google headquarters. There she met the Treasurer at the time, and they went on to cocreate a two week STEM apprenticeship located in Google London. Beth admits she was shocked by the careers advice in schools as whole, and had come across negative connotations of the STEM sector, and a lack of knowledge of what roles exist in the industry from staff. This was the intention behind the Google apprenticeship; providing students with the opportunity to see what working in STEM could look like. When asked if this apprenticeship was motivated by her experience at Nestle, Beth responded “Without doubt, 110%”, recognising the value of what being exposed to the world of work teaches you, from basic skills like time management to talking over the phone, and crucially learning what you aspects you do and don’t enjoy. 

It is clear that both Beth and Lloyd’s participation in their apprenticeships was vital, providing the hands-on experience that engaged and inspired them enough to further train in their respective professions and shaped their attitudes towards the STEM sector. It is imperative that as a sector we value the diverse routes into the industry and the ongoing need to embed global and social responsibility throughout all levels of education and training. 

Find out how you can inspire the next generation of globally responsible engineers, by becoming a STEM ambassador or learn more about our upcoming volunteer opportunities here.