Choosing an Apprenticeship as a career path

Joe Hedley, an apprentice from QinetiQ, one of The 5% Club’s founding members, explains the virtues of choosing an apprenticeship as a career path.

The 5% Club Joe Hedley, 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 which 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 which 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 which require new blood and apprenticeships are a perfect way of plugging those gaps.

5percent-logoYoung 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.



What’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander

Rob Schofield, Group Talent Manager at The 5% Club member Balfour Beatty, discusses the options available to school leavers as they collect their GCSE results today.

GCSEs exam

August. While we enjoy the long sunny days, for many families the month is filled with a mixture of hope and trepidation as they await A Level and GCSE results. For the parent – will my teenager get into the university of their choice, or achieve the grades for college A Levels? For the teenager – will I get my grades? Will I still be with my school friends? What if I don’t get the grades, what happens then?

The dreaded word: university.

As the £9,000 annual fee commences this year, applicants need to be savvier about the courses they choose. Is the £27k debt really worth it? Why is university still seen by parents and students to be the only option?

The university market looks very different now compared to 1992. I was lucky, I had a clear view on what I wanted my career to be, and had been proactive in my work experience to date. I got the grades required, but I also received a full-time job opportunity on a Graduate Programme with Marks & Spencer. My brother, who was graduating from Bristol, was instrumental in my decision making because his future was looking bleak – the recession in full swing and graduate recruitment was at an all-time low. Instead of going to university I chose to go straight into a job.

1110BB326-494x288For those that got GCSE results this summer, new options have opened up for school leavers. The image of apprenticeships being a poor alternative or a low grade role is misconstrued. Having been involved in developing apprenticeships over the past five years I have seen the value in them – not just to the employer but also to the apprentice. Higher Apprenticeships help A Level students that might not have quite made the cut get into their chosen university. Often employers, as well as paying a salary, will pay the employee for their study – leaving them (and their families) in a much better financial situation than had they taken the ‘traditional’ route. It’s a win-win: the employer gets skilled, talented and career minded individuals. The apprentice gets excellent training and development, and a head start for their career.

Schools and colleges are slowly realising the potential of apprenticeships, but experience tells me that parents don’t know enough about the options that apprenticeships can and do bring. For parents with children about to enter the final year of GCSE’s or A Levels, I urge you to read up more about the apprentice route and take a more informed look at what is on offer. The 5% Club is a great portal for parents and teenagers alike to understand the routes of education open to them and as a unit help make decisions as to what is best for them. Ultimately you have to let your child make the decision and support them. Become more informed and open your eyes to all of the opportunities, and remember what was good for the goose is not always good for the gander.

The mosquito in the room

Emily Jones, a Graduate Engineer from The 5% Club member Balfour Beatty, speaks about her recent visit to Barnardo’s as part of  her company’s Building Better Futures Programme.

Read her thoughts on how companies in the construction industry have a duty to provide more than funding for vocational training programmes like Barnardo’s.




How did you get to your desk this morning? I travelled by car, train, tube and made the journey up the fish bowl lift at Head Office. In reality, I got to my Balfour Beatty desk by turning up at school, passing my exams, going to university and getting a graduate job. That all sounds pretty normal to me.

But I know that I was lucky. I was fortunate enough to be traditionally academic. I liked school, I was a natural classroom-based learner, and so I would attend and kind of enjoy it. I had no important responsibilities at home, so no real distractions or challenges. Not everyone has such easy circumstances.

When I was asked if I would like to visit some of our Building Better Futures charitable partners, I jumped at the chance, but also realised I didn’t know very much about them. I’ve volunteered at the London Youth Games, ‘dressed down’ on a Friday, putting my pound in the box, but I wasn’t completely aware of where our funding goes beyond this.

Emily Jones bigThe charitable partner I visited was The Hub – Barnardo’s Learning and Skills Centre. It takes on young people who find it difficult to engage in traditional school-based learning and offers tailored study to support different pupils’ needs. Visiting at the end of the school term, I was told of particular success stories as I watched three of the current pupils carrying out a model car building task. Examples of work completed by these pupils could be seen in each of the three construction-based workshops: Carpentry, plumbing and painting and decorating. Basic skills are taught in these areas, leading to foundation and intermediate Construction Skills qualifications.

One particular student – and her work – caught my eye. 18 months in, she has completed her Level 1 Diploma in Construction Skills and is returning in September to attain the next level. ‘Getting your head down’ was literal in her case. She barely turned away from the model car she had been tasked to build that day, and was wheels and doors ahead of the others. She completed work ahead of time and was tasked with extra work above and beyond the course content. There is hope to nominate her for the Young Builder of the Year Awards for 2014. She wouldn’t have had this opportunity in her school.

Alongside Construction Skills diplomas, the staff at The Hub teach a core curriculum, including IT skills, literacy and numeracy, as well as working to get a CSCS card. Depending on specific needs, pupils can attend for 1 to 4 days. It was pretty amazing to see young people who had previously had poor attendance at school re-engage with many achieving significantly better attendance at The Hub.

This is just one example of where our money is going. Our fundraising and the company’s match funding helps to ensure this programme carries on being successful. The next academic year will see between 20 and 30 pupils compared to six in the last, as well as improved facilities and the introduction of a breakfast club. Funding is one thing, but what struck me was the obvious gap in how companies in the construction industry can support this type of programme. These pupils need more than skills, they need experience. We’ve helped to get them on a learning path towards a future career in construction, but to keep them there requires mentoring, guidance, access to work experience and apprenticeships. We have the ability.

Companies in the industry can make a difference. Anita Roddick, of The Body Shop said; “if you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room”. It’s so exciting to see Balfour Beatty graduates and apprentices who are keen and not too far removed from the kids at Barnardo’s, offering them an insight into the world of construction. Companies like ours have a responsibility to provide more than funding, and it is initiatives like the Barnardo’s Hub that make me proud to work at Balfour Beatty.


The 5% Club CBI

Latest figures from the ONS show that from the three months to June, youth unemployment fell to 16.9%, although 767,000 young people are still out of work.

Despite the decrease, the Conferation of British Business – a member and supporter of The 5% Club – believes that current figures are still too high and argue that there is much work ahead in addressing the UK’s youth unemployment problem.

Speaking of the latest figures, CBI Director-General  John Cridland said:

“It’s encouraging to see the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest since 2008 with far more opportunities being created for young people.

“While disappointing this month, we would expect wage growth to pick up over time, but this can only go hand-in-hand with improving productivity.

“The latest figures are very upbeat, but we cannot ignore the fact that far too many young people are still out of work. Youth unemployment was rising even in the good times and is still high enough to fill Wembley Stadium over eight times.

“We cannot squander the talent of a generation and leave them at the back of the queue in life. Young people should be equipped with the skills they need to succeed and given the chance to show what they’re made of”.

To coincide with the release of the latest labour market statistics, The CBI launched a new report, titled Future Possible, that outlines how business, the Government and schools must re-double their efforts to prepare young people for work and deliver the career options and network of support they need. The report calls for:

  • Government to create a network of Back to Work Coordinators who can offer young people a personalised service and bring together all the different support services they might need, bypassing the current disjointed system
  • Business to pledge to work harder to routinely provide constructive feedback to young people who attend interviews or assessment centres and, for those who don’t make it to this stage, provide a general set of “top tips” for future applications
  • Government to retain the age-related structure of the National Minimum Wage to help employers offset the higher costs of hiring young people, incentivising recruitment.

In the report, The CBI has paid tribute to The 5% Club:

“Industry-led bodies like the 5% Club are also a great way for business to commit to taking on more young people through these routes and seek support from companies further ahead on the journey”.

The report also calls on businesses to sign up to The 5% Club as way of showing commitment on the value of vocational education.

The 5% Club CBI

To read the Future Possible report, click here

Prince Charles Promotes Scarborough Engineering Week

The 5% Club_DalePowerSolutions


The 5% Club’s Dale Power Solutions are proud to sponsor and exhibit at this year’s Scarborough Engineering Week to help promote engineering and careers in Science, Technology and Mathematics.

As a leading employer and engineering firm in Scarborough, Dale Power Solutions are committed to promoting careers in STEM subjects, and as part of that they have a long standing apprenticeship programme dating back to the 1940s.

In the past 12 months, DPS have created 30 new jobs in the region and have plans to double their service business and increase manufacturing, with apprenticeships very much at the centre of their strategy.

Speaking of Scarborough Engineering Week, Dale Power Solutions said:

“We must therefore do all we can to promote engineering and apprenticeships and the 5% Club helps with this but we recognise that we must continue working closely with our local community. The 5% Club demonstrates our commitment to apprenticeships which in turn provides confidence to our local community that joining Dale as an apprentice means you can have an exciting and stimulating career for years to come.

Scarborough-Engineering-Week-660x300Each and every year new partners are added to help raise the bar by showcasing new, exciting technology. However, this on its own is not enough. We must ensure that our educational strategy continues to change the perception of twenty-first century engineering to students, parents and teachers. Otherwise, we may fall short of our key objectives in ensuring that Scarborough has a successful future on the world stage.”

In full support of Scarborough Engineering Week, Prince Charles writes:

“The work which Scarborough Engineering Week is promoting could hardly be more important or more timely.

This year there will be around 87,000 vacancies in the engineering profession with only 51,000 qualified engineers available to fill the roles. Another alarming statistic is there is a need for 69,000 level three engineering apprenticeships each year for the next ten years, while only 27,000 young people are actually being recruited annually. The gap shows the scale of the challenge facing business, government, education and voluntary organisations as they try to meet this growing demand. However, it also shows the scale of the opportunity available to those with the vision to grasp it.

I have long been concerned about youth unemployment and, in particular, I am keen to encourage young people to take up careers in areas where the United Kingdom has skill shortages. Young people are missing out on rewarding careers due to misconceptions about engineering being an outmoded and declining profession, rather than the fast-growing high-tech and hugely diverse sector that it is.

It is of vital importance to this nation that we inspire our young people to become the engineers of tomorrow. That is why I am so heartened by Scarborough’s splendid initiative and I am most grateful to local and regional businesses for taking the time to provide an insight into careers not just in Engineering, but also in the core skills of Science, Technology and Mathematics which are essential to success in this field.

As you celebrate the firth year in Scarborough Engineering Week, I send my warmest greetings and wish you every possible success. “

Scarborough Engineering Week will be open to the public on Monday 13th – Thursday 16th October, 4pm-7pm.