What can apprenticeships offer?

Julian Sulley, Director of Technical Services at the Faculty of Engineering & Design and a former apprentice, shares his thoughts on apprenticeships in the Dept. of Mechanical Engineering.

How long have you had apprentices in the department?

During my time here, six years - a year after I started. We began with one for mechanical services and a second for electronics and instrumentation, since then we’ve alternated them each year where possible.

What motivated you to take on apprentices in the first place one?

Recruitment has become a real challenge so we wanted grow our own, bring them in, train them in-house and retain them as skilled technicians. Apprenticeships can help you to retain the skills you need to meet demand.

What roles have they performed?

Apprentices have to balance their academic theory, so attending college one day a week, and practical work, which is undertaken within the department during the remainder of the week.

The mechanical apprentices do their hands-on work on lathes and mills to machine components, for example those used in the undergraduate teaching lab jet nozzle rigs, while the electronics apprentices will design and make basic circuit boards. Both projects are required for their college accreditation but we also use them to assist and advise our students in the department.

We give them more challenging tasks as they go on and the complexity of some of the work of the ex-apprentices is phenomenal, like programming CNC machinery to manufacture parts for gas turbine rigs.

They also have skills that go beyond the department so can support other areas. Recently, Bethany helped out in Architecture & Civil Engineering while she was one of our apprentices.

What do you think apprenticeships have brought to your department?

The main thing is that they enable us to recruit and retain talented staff, but they also have a lot to offer in addition.

When we train undergraduates in the model shop, we use apprentices in a limited capacity to pass on some of their practical skills and help supervise and provide a high level of safety.

They’ve also been taking prospective students and their families around the department and several of them have gone to apprenticeship fairs and spoken very positively about their experiences here, which is great for their interpersonal skills.

Not all apprentices need to be young but ours happen to have been, and it’s been a good mix for the team.

How do you think the scheme benefits individuals?

This is an opportunity to increase their knowledge and to develop new skills. Because there’s also an enormous variety to what we do and it’s a great environment to work in so they also get a lot of job satisfaction.

I’ve seen our apprentices mature beyond their years in the time they’ve been with us and some have already been promoted, one has just become a grade 6 Senior Technician, purely on merit. These are going to be the supervisors and managers of the next decade.

What advice would you have for someone considering taking on an apprentice?

Identify a good training provider, we have an excellent working relationship with City of Bath College. They do a lot of ground work for us like advertising our vacancies and shortlisting applications.

Think about your timescales, in our case the college year starts in September so we have to plan our recruitment lead times accordingly.

As a former MoD apprentice toolmaker in an armaments factory in Nottingham, apprenticeships are dear to my heart. I was very fortunate to be taught by many highly skilled toolmakers during my four year apprenticeship and beyond and I think it’s incumbent on me to pass on that opportunity to others.

One final point, take into consideration the time and commitment that will be required from your staff beforehand, but it’s absolutely worth it.

What can apprenticeships offer?

Julian Sulley, Director of Technical Services at the Faculty of Engineering & Design and a former apprentice, shares his thoughts on apprenticeships in the Dept. of Mechanical Engineering.

1. How long have you had apprentices in the department?

During my time here, six years - a year after I started. We began with one for mechanical services and a second for electronics and instrumentation, since then we’ve alternated them each year where possible.

2. What motivated you to take on apprentices in the first place one?

Recruitment has become a real challenge so we wanted grow our own, bring them in, train them in-house and retain them as skilled technicians. Apprenticeships can help you to retain the skills you need to meet demand.

3. What roles have they performed?

Apprentices have to balance their academic theory, so attending college one day a week, and practical work, which is undertaken within the department during the remainder of the week.

The mechanical apprentices do their hands-on work on lathes and mills to machine components, for example those used in the undergraduate teaching lab jet nozzle rigs, while the electronics apprentices will design and make basic circuit boards. Both projects are required for their college accreditation but we also use them to assist and advise our students in the department.

We give them more challenging tasks as they go on and the complexity of some of the work of the ex-apprentices is phenomenal, like programming CNC machinery to manufacture parts for gas turbine rigs.

They also have skills that go beyond the department so can support other areas. Recently, Bethany helped out in Architecture & Civil Engineering while she was one of our apprentices.

4. What do you think apprenticeships have brought to your department?

The main thing is that they enable us to recruit and retain talented staff, but they also have a lot to offer in addition.

When we train undergraduates in the model shop, we use apprentices in a limited capacity to pass on some of their practical skills and help supervise and provide a high level of safety.

They’ve also been taking prospective students and their families around the department and several of them have gone to apprenticeship fairs and spoken very positively about their experiences here, which is great for their interpersonal skills.

Not all apprentices need to be young but ours happen to have been, and it’s been a good mix for the team.

5. How do you think the scheme benefits individuals?

This is an opportunity to increase their knowledge and to develop new skills. Because there’s also an enormous variety to what we do and it’s a great environment to work in so they also get a lot of job satisfaction.

I’ve seen our apprentices mature beyond their years in the time they’ve been with us and some have already been promoted, one has just become a grade 6 Senior Technician, purely on merit. These are going to be the supervisors and managers of the next decade.

6. What advice would you have for someone considering taking on an apprentice?

Identify a good training provider, we have an excellent working relationship with City of Bath College. They do a lot of ground work for us like advertising our vacancies and shortlisting applications.

Think about your timescales, in our case the college year starts in September so we have to plan our recruitment lead times accordingly.

As a former MoD apprentice toolmaker in an armaments factory in Nottingham, apprenticeships are dear to my heart. I was very fortunate to be taught by many highly skilled toolmakers during my four year apprenticeship and beyond and I think it’s incumbent on me to pass on that opportunity to others.

One final point, take into consideration the time and commitment that will be required from your staff beforehand, but it’s absolutely worth it.

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