Luke Barrow: Why A-level grades aren’t the end of the world


We recently heard from Luke Barrow, an aeronautical engineering apprentice at QinetiQ, the founding member of The 5% Club.

Last week, young people up and down the country received the news of their A-level results. For many, upon opening tearing open their results they discovered that they got the grades that they wanted and were going to the university they’d hoped for. For others, their worst nightmare; grades below expectations and no university place. The clearing system is there as a safety net for those that still wish to continue into further education despite not getting the grades they needed. Luke believes and witnessed first-hand, that there are better options available for school leavers.

One year ago, Luke was one of those students tearing open his results. Whilst sitting his exams, he wasn’t certain about what he wanted to do next. He admitted that he “had been sitting on the fence for a while about university versus an apprenticeship”. At school he was informed, as many young people are, that university was the only real way into a solid career with job security and a good salary.

Whilst at school he worked part time in the evenings, on the weekends and during his holidays at a local store. Whilst working in the store, someone brought up the prospect of engineering in conversation. “At that stage I was thinking about maybe something to do with the sciences,” said Luke. “But when a customer suggested doing some work experience at his firm, I leapt at the chance and that experience changed my future.”

”I started to seriously look at the world of engineering and saw that a degree was not the only option and other training routes, such as an apprenticeship, might be preferable,” he said .

Whilst studying for his A-levels, Luke began researching firms and positions that could be interesting on websites such as He came across a couple of different roles and the one that really caught his eye was the explosives engineer apprenticeship programme with QinetiQ. He applied to the programme on and despite being accepted onto a couple of different programmes, he decided that QinetiQ’s programme was the one for him.

“By the time I went to pick up my results, I already knew what the next step in my journey was going to be. However, I was still nervous on results day because I wanted to know I had done well, but I knew I was going to start work in the September so felt the pressure was off.”

Since Luke started the apprenticeship his time has been spent between classroom based workshops and the training hangar where he is currently learning how to repair military aircraft. The apprenticeship has allowed him to earn and learn at the same time, giving him an excellent foundation for his career as an engineer without student debt.

His advice to others thinking about following him down the apprenticeship route rather than going to university is: “You shouldn’t be swayed by what everyone else is doing, trust your own instincts and research all of your options carefully.” He also found the website Not Going to Uni ( really useful with some great information on apprenticeships and vocational learning, as well as interview advice and tips on writing your CV.

“I also think it’s really important to get as much work experience as possible as it gives you something to talk about”. Additionally, he said, “Be prepared to work hard, and keep an eye out for opportunities, you never know where they may come from”.

To find out more about QinetiQ and the opportunities they offer, please visit

To find out more information about The 5% Club and how to become a member, please visit or get in touch by Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as well!


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