Apprenticeships are not a new phenomenon. With their roots in the medieval craft guilds of the Middle Ages, apprenticeships provide a way for employees to receive practical training and qualifications in their chosen field.
Today, the introduction of the Government Apprenticeship Levy means that apprenticeships are becoming much more widely available in a range of industries. At the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) we are taking advantage of this to expand our well-established apprenticeship programme.
Phil Atkinson is the Group Leader for the Technical, Mechanical and Vacuum Engineering Group at STFC Daresbury Laboratory. He started his career as an apprentice, and has overseen the apprenticeship programme at the site for number of years:
“In 2017 we have built upon our established engineering apprenticeship programme at STFC, expanding our intake four fold. We have added degree apprenticeships in electronics and cybersecurity, as well as higher apprenticeships in project management, involving many new recruits, and upskilling our current workforce.”
This week, apprentices were celebrated in an event at Daresbury Laboratory. Rhys Foster graduated at the ceremony, while 11 others signed their deed of apprenticeship officially welcoming them to the scheme.
The event was attended by STFC’s Chief Executive Dr Brian Bowsher, who presented the awards.
Dr Bowsher said: “We are incredibly proud of our apprentices at STFC. The programme represents the world-class skills present within the organisation; it is going from strength to strength and this is reflected in the aspirations of the young people joining us and their incredible achievements. Our apprentices have unique opportunities to see and support international science collaborations at work.”
The awards ceremony at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory took place on the 2nd November, when 7 engineering apprentices graduated and 15 new recruits (8 engineering, 4 software engineering, 2 electrical installation and 1 IT) signed their deed of apprenticeship.
Apprentices receive accredited training with approved providers, but they also receive excellent on-the-job training and mentoring from those they work with within the organisation.
One of the apprentices graduating from the programme this year to start his career as a mechanical engineering technician is Rhys Foster. Rhys was not only named North West Training Council (NWTC) Apprentice of the Year in March, he is also a finalist for the GTA England Apprentices of the Year 2017-18 Award – making him one of the top four apprentices in the engineering/construction category for this national award.
Speaking of his experiences at STFC, Rhys said:
“Working as an apprentice for STFC at Daresbury Laboratory has been fantastic in terms of gaining valuable experience in engineering, and providing me with an academic framework to match. It differs from other higher level apprenticeships by providing an environment that is naturally synonymous with learning. It really helped me to progress my engineering, and my projects at foreign institutes such as CERN and ILL have been very rewarding.”
“Becoming the winner of the NWTC Apprentice of the year award and a current finalist of the National Apprentice of the Year Award has topped off a great 4 years!”
There are currently 75 apprentices currently working for STFC across the Daresbury Laboratory, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and UK Astronomy Technology Centre sites. That number is set to increase with 36 new apprenticeships starting so far this year. They are working in an array of fields, including mechanical and electrical engineering, electronics, computing, metrology (the study of measurement), estates, IT and project management.
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Some of the courses on offer, like project management, are brand new apprenticeships never before offered at STFC. James McKinney is part of the new intake of apprentices, and is currently working towards a level 4 qualification as an associate project manager.
He chose the apprenticeship route because he didn’t feel like university was for him: “With an apprenticeship, I could go into the workplace, gain experience and get a relevant, industry-recognised qualification that will allow me to reach the same heights as someone with a degree.”
James came to us straight from college, but other apprentices have joined us from work or university. These include Louise Smith, who saw apprenticeships as the next step towards a fulfilling career: “I chose the associate project management apprenticeship as it is something I felt I was able to apply myself to, combining the skills I had acquired at university and those I had gained during my time in part-time employment. Project management is something I feel is of ever-growing importance and an area that would keep me on my toes.”
In other areas, the apprenticeship programme is expanding to meet the demands of tomorrow’s job market.
Computing apprenticeships have been offered for a number of years at STFC, but for the first time this year the Hartree Centre are also taking an apprentice in cybersecurity. While studying towards a BSc in Digital and Technology Solutions, they will be working within the platforms and infrastructure group with a view to improving information security processes and procedures.
This specialism reflects the increasing emphasis on cybersecurity needed to keep the UK at the forefront of digital skills.
Apprentices can also help to bring new life and energy into the workforce. Reports have shown that apprentices are more than just an extra pair of hands – they can improve productivity, quality, and help to generate new ideas.
Joan Berry, part of Digital Solutions at Daresbury Laboratory, has recently welcomed Matt to the Service Desk team as an IT apprentice. “Matt has made a real difference to our productivity and invigorated the team. In the short three months Matt has been with us, he has quickly become an integral part of the team through his eagerness to learn and his enthusiasm.”
Apprenticeships are also a way for existing staff to expand their existing skill set. Liz Kennedy worked as a PA in the Cockcroft Institute for eight years before starting her apprenticeship in project management:
“I wanted to do the apprenticeship because I saw it as an opportunity for my own personal development, and to do something different that would bring relevant skills into my team.”
The scheme is allowing Liz to continue her work as a PA while completing the training – something she is looking forward to.
“It will be strange to be back in the classroom again,” says Liz “but I think it will do me good. I’ll be working for up to 24 months to build my portfolio, before being assessed and making a presentation to become fully qualified.”
The length of time for an apprenticeship typically varies from 2-6 years depending on the qualification achieved. Planning ahead allows us to continue meeting the demands of a changing research environment.
Phil Atkinson says: “We are growing and developing our own with the benefit of creating the skills and capabilities for tomorrow to support the complex needs of our expanding portfolio.”
According to Helen Johnson, National Apprenticeship Scheme Manager at STFC, over the long-term the apprenticeship scheme will feed into other training programmes:
“The vision for the organisation is for apprenticeships to feed into other training programmes in place at STFC – providing a pathway to take young people from school or college through to degree or even PhD level.”
This approach will allow the apprentices to grow with the organisation, and with advances in their chosen field – keeping STFC and the UK at the forefront of science and innovation.
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Find out more about the apprenticeships offered by STFC.