The power of apprenticeships: Joe Hedley's QinetiQ experience

20 August 2014
By Joe Hedley
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Joe Hedley, Aeronautical Mechanical Engineering Apprentice at QinetiQ

Joe Hedley, Aeronautical Mechanical Engineering Apprentice at QinetiQ

Young people have tough choices to make when they are leaving school, as millions of them are about to now. The next step is daunting - and can obviously help define what you do going through life. One career path that should not be overlooked is that of apprenticeships.

I have been an Aeronautical Mechanical Engineering Apprentice at QinetiQ for the past four years, and will be moving on to work for the company full time later in the year.

It has been a fantastic experience.

From a young age, I always knew I wanted to work in a practical way with aircraft. That was never in any doubt, and that helped me form what my next steps would be upon leaving school.

My choice was to apply for an apprenticeship.

I knew I didn’t want to go to university – although I appreciate this isn’t the same for everyone – and nor did I want to do a course relating to something I had no interest in with very little, if any, practical experience.

An apprenticeship meant learning to do a job I wanted to do, and get paid for doing it.

QinetiQ apprentices learn at its Apprentice Training School at MOD Boscombe Down, Salisbury. The facility includes a dedicated training school aircraft hangar which houses several aircraft for apprentices to work on, with the apprenticeship culminating in working on ‘live’ aircraft in one the company’s hangars.
For me, it is a ‘dream come true’ experience.

But studying at the Apprenticeship School did mean I had to leave home in Doncaster and move 220 miles to the south of the UK.

I was just 19 and initially, it was a daunting prospect. Part of the process means finding your own place to live.

But the same can be said of going to university, or moving away from home for work.

When I think of young people back home where I grew up, of course many of them will be at uni, but there will also be a number who are struggling to get jobs.

The UK unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds stands at just below 900,000, which is a sizeable amount of young people.

The idea that many of them could be actually learning a trade or skill, while being paid, must be more appealing than the daily grind of trying to find a job that you do not really want to do.

It is well known that there is a need for skilled young people in the engineering sector in the UK.

But there are obviously other industries that require new blood and apprenticeships are a perfect way of plugging those gaps.

Young people need the chance to show what they can do in Britain, which is why The 5% Club campaign is so important.

The Club asks member companies to sign up and pledge to having 5% of apprentices, graduates and sponsored students in their organisations within five years.

Those who are in apprenticeships are the ones being given opportunities to carve out a career, but they are also taking those opportunities with both hands.

For my part, I have just been named in Squad UK for WorldSkills 2015. WorldSkills is the largest international skills competition in the world and is held every two years. It involves 1,000 young people, aged 18-25, competing for medals in 40 different skill sets including Aircraft Maintenance, Web Design, Cooking and Bricklaying.

I progressed through the heat stages and managed to get through to the national final, held at the NEC, Birmingham in November 2013. The competition involved competing against apprentices from other Aerospace companies such as Marshalls and Thomas Cook as well as the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy in several aircraft-related tasks. These included component removal and refit, flying control rigging, aircraft skin repair and jet engine blade blending, to name a few. To see the skills of the other participants was amazing and just goes to show the engineering talent we have in this country.

The international final of WorldSkills takes place in Brazil in 2015 and I hope to be on the plane. I have a chance at the moment and really want to take it. The next 10 months of training and a final deciding competition with another of the top aircraft maintenance apprentices in the country will decide whether I do or don’t. There is no failure here however; both of us are at a very high standard so whoever is unsuccessful can still be named one of the best in the United Kingdom - a great achievement.

As Minister for Skills and Enterprise Matthew Hancock says: “The WorldSkills Competition is an opportunity for the UK to showcase and celebrate our young apprentices on the global stage. It goes to show, that for every skill and every vocational area, we can and should celebrate excellence.”

WorldSkills will hopefully show that we have a fantastic pool of talent amongst young people in this country, which needs to be encouraged by those in business.

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