Apprentices from FUNAC.

An assortment of apprenticeships

While competition for the more popular engineering apprenticeship schemes can be fierce, there are many more unusual roles to consider. We take a look at five offbeat apprenticeships available in the UK.

Nuclear fusion engineer

Working at a nuclear fusion plant is not as sci-fi as you’d think. And you certainly don’t need to be armed to the teeth with PhDs to get a job there.

Thanks to Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE), it’s a concept that has become a very definite reality for an increasing number of young adults in the South Oxfordshire region.

Eight years ago, CCFE joined forces with National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) to develop a new company training programme designed for school leavers – which provides young people with invaluable work-based opportunities to develop careers in world-leading science and engineering fields.

The four-year training programme, based at the Culham site and a local college, is designed for apprentices to obtain a certificate of Advanced Apprenticeship, academic qualifications such as PEO, BTEC level 3, NVQ levels 2 & 3 and HNC – and registration as an EngTech by either Institution of Mechanical Engineers or the Institution of Engineering and Technology. A massive added bonus it also provides you with an opportunity to enter further education (think HND or degree) – all paid for by the CCFE.

Vehicle safety testing

Benjamin Lamb joined Jaguar Land Rover on a four-year advanced level 3 apprenticeship in 2011 after completing A levels in maths, biology, sports science and general studies. To date he has scooped four apprenticeship awards including Advanced Apprentice of the Year at the 2013 National Apprenticeship Awards, West Midlands regional final.

Lamb works in the vehicle safety testing laboratory at the Jaguar Land Rover plant in Coventry – which requires workshop operators to assist with test set ups, produce solutions for continued prototype development and prepare vehicles for shipment to testing housing. On a daily basis he works with drawings and directions to set up testing rigs, produce components and tooling, whilst also assisting with the preparation of crash testing vehicles by fitting necessary parts.

“This can involve machining, fabricating, hand fitting and a variety of other skills to deliver to the requests of designated engineers,” explains Lamb. “I interact daily with a team of workshop personnel, reporting to a supervisor, and I liaise with engineers to find solutions to problems and attain appropriate information.”

“I have learnt a variety of new skills, beginning with gaining competence on lathes and milling machines, and I have developed hand fitting skills and materials knowledge. I have worked on a number of projects - most notably creating a bespoke piece of tooling to aid with the removal and refitting of a particular part from a new vehicle model in order to progress the testing programme.”

Lamb’s apprenticeship runs in conjunction with studying for a foundation degree in automotive engineering at Warwickshire College. In addition he has also been able to undertake a variety of in-house courses to certify competence on workshop equipment such as cranes and vehicle lifts as well as external courses on risk assessment and developing hybrid vehicle knowledge.

“The diversity and satisfaction of my work makes the programme extremely enjoyable. I work within an excellent team who have helped my development and given me with many opportunities,” states Lamb. “Being part of a large and thriving organisation I have developed greater appreciation for the business and feel that as an apprentice I have gained experience which will allow integration into a variety of roles in the future.”

Robotics engineer

If you thought that industrial robots were just used in car assembly plants – think again. Robots are routinely employed in pretty much any industry you can think of – from pulling hide off dead cows, to stacking pharmaceutical bottles, to producing solar panels to even cutting lettuces.  Japanese company FANUC is one of the largest manufacturers of industrial robots. Its UK division currently employs over 100 people and has an annual turnover of £50 million.

Chris Sumner, FANUC UK’s managing director started the company’s apprentice scheme in 1997 with his first candidate Michelle Bottrill, who, after completing the apprenticeship became a project engineer and is now FANUC’s Parts, Training and Service Sales Manager.  

The Coventry-based company is up against big players such as Jaguar Land Rover and Rolls Royce so its yearly apprenticeship drive starts in early – usually in May through to July. It also uses its products – such as basketball and football goalkeeper robots - to create a lasting impression on young students.

“We work with a local training group Midland Group Training Services Ltd (MGTS) who go through all the schools to select potential candidates,” explains Sumner. “We interview candidates alongside their parents, and what we’re looking for is for them to have a reasonable level of physics and maths, and enthusiasm.”

Once selected apprentice robotics engineers spend their first year ‘off the job’ at MGTS where essential basics in areas including hydraulics and pneumatics are covered leading to a BTEC Diploma. Apprentices spend the following three years working at FANUC in a variety of related roles while attending college, to HNC level, and being monitored by MGTS supervisors to achieve NVQ level 3.

“Apprentices are encouraged and have every opportunity to progress academically as well as practically,” says Sumner. “One of our four-year apprentices Tom Sullivan who was recently short-listed for Apprentice of the Year at the Plastics Industry Awards, is now a product engineer and is currently studying for a BSc in engineering at Coventry University.”

Power systems technician

After finishing her A levels Emma Plum joined UK telecoms company Arqiva in 2008 on a two-year scheme as an apprentice field services technician.  At the end of her course, armed with a BTEC National Certification in Telecommunications as well as an NVQ and Key Skills certificate, Emma transferred into the power systems department, and, after completing a three-year power systems development programme, is now the only female power systems technician in the company.

“I am responsible for the maintenance and fixing of electrical infrastructure that supports our transmission equipment,” says Plum.

“One of the things that I like most about my job is that there is no such thing as a typical day – I can be changing a light fitting or taking a towable generator to site to support services during a mains outage. The fact that my job is field-based adds an extra element of excitement because I cover telecoms masts all over Yorkshire, along with parts of Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Lancashire.”  

Despite being Arqiva’s only female power systems technician, Plum has always been treated as an equal by her colleagues and employers.

“I would encourage anyone, regardless of their sex, to consider an apprenticeship. I have found the experience incredibly positive and Arqiva have been hugely supportive throughout all of my training,” Plum says.

“For me, the fact that I was able to gain qualifications at the same time as immensely valuable work experience was an ideal combination that I have really benefited from. The nature of the job means that I am always learning, and I’m hoping to continue my development through further training in the future.”   

Lift engineer

Having spent her childhood years watching her engineer dad looking at drawings and carrying out cable calculations, 17-year-old Brooke Martin from Riddrie, Scotland decided she wanted to follow in his footsteps.

Encouraged by her father she gave up her summer holiday last year to take part in an electronics engineering course at Glasgow Clyde College so she could pinpoint her field of study. Mentors on the course worked with Martin to help determine what kind of role would suit her best – which turned out to be lift engineering.

Martin successfully applied to undertake a lift engineering apprenticeship role with City Building – Glasgow City Council’s ‘arm’s length’ construction firm that runs one of Britain’s largest apprenticeship programmes. This year the organisation has recruited 81 apprentices – and also boasts 33 per cent of the total female apprentices for the whole of Scotland.

“One of the aspects that really attracted me to the area is that it combines so many different elements of engineering,” Martin states.

Typical duties for lift engineers include planned preventive maintenance - carrying out scheduled routine inspections and checks on electrical equipment, gears, and hydraulics; installation - commissioning and fitting out lifts, lifting gear, lift wells and ancillary equipment; refurbishment - replacing or upgrading lift interiors, such as flooring, panel displays, and comms systems, and administration which includes analysing call out patterns to identify and isolate defects, and producing inspection and risk assessment reports.

“I had always been interested in lifts and all of the technology surrounding them, so I did not have to think hard about my decision. It was a dream come true,” says Martin.

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