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An alternative route into STEM: Meet the women launching their careers through apprenticeships

Two young Asian women working together.

ARTICLE SUMMARY

This week marks National Apprenticeship Week – a celebration of the achievements of apprentices across the UK – and an opportunity to showcase the benefits of apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships can offer a great alternative route into the STEM industry. An apprenticeship will give you hands-on training and experience and you will receive a qualification at the end of the course.

In this article, SheCanCode sat down with a number of women to talk about their decision to enroll on an apprenticeship, how it’s helped kickstart their careers and their advice for others who are thinking about becoming an apprentice.

MEET AMY

Amy is currently a Engineering Degree Apprentice, Air at BAE Systems.

Amy is currently a Engineering Degree Apprentice, Air at BAE Systems

Amy began her engineering career when she was ten-years-old. While in primary school in Wrea Green, Lancashire, she placed second in a national engineering contest. She knew she’d found her calling. That childhood interest in engineering influenced her academic pursuits at Cardinal Newman College where she studied Maths, Further Maths, and Physics. Her passion eventually led her to BAE Systems where she is currently in the fifth and final year of her apprenticeship within the Engineering Degree Apprenticeship Scheme (EDAS) Aerospace department. 

Amy has always had a need to understand how things work and, early in her career, Amy realised that she wanted to be a “hands on” engineer. The apprenticeship programme has provided her with numerous opportunities to do so. Over the past five years, she has worked across multiple departments – Typhoon In Service Support and Avionics, Tornado Fast Jet Support, Tempest Structures, and the F-35 Fuel team – before landing a role within her dream department, Tempest Concept Design, for the final two years of the program. Working in different functions has helped her gain a deep knowledge of the aircrafts while learning how the system works as a whole.

In her current role as a Concept Designer, she is training and working with the team who plan and develop the iterations for new fighter jets. On a daily basis she works on a Computer Aided Design (CAD) software system, learning how to ‘draw’ aircraft from first principles while finding innovative ways to package all of the features. It has been an ongoing educational process, and Amy has embraced every step of it. Her advice when taking on new challenges or learning new skills? “Just keep going!” 

The apprenticeship has also afforded Amy the opportunity to gain valuable work experience while earning her degree. Given how competitive the engineering industry is, she considered being able to simultaneously learn and earn a great way to jump-start her career. She credits the broad range of roles and the encouragement to explore them as one of the best aspects of BAE Systems. She appreciates that at BAE Systems, employees are able to learn first-hand by engaging in a full product development lifecycle. Amy also loves the travel opportunities that have come with her various roles. She recently spent seven weeks in Japan studying how to develop aircraft from the team there, and she looks forward to working with the Italian partners in the future. 

While Amy believes it is important to work hard and stay focused on her dreams, she also knows it’s important to enjoy the journey. Outside of work, Amy spends her time tackling a different complex system – real estate. She self-taught herself how to renovate her first investment property in St. Anne’s, and she’s looking forward to finding a second place soon. Amy also loves to swim, and she can be spotted around town taking her dog for a walk.

MEET DESTINY

Destiny is currently a Business & Integration Architecture Specialist at Accenture. She graduated in July 2022.

Destiny is currently a Business & Integration Architecture Specialist at Accenture

“I grew up in Croydon, South London and come from a working-class background. I loved growing up in Croydon; it’s rich in diversity, different cultures and I think that’s really affected how I see the world today.”

“I was set on doing an apprenticeship because I knew I wanted to do something that was set in a working environment. But I also wanted to do a degree apprenticeship because my parents were very set on me getting a degree. I think it’s a Caribbean parent thing because they didn’t always have those opportunities growing up. So, I created a presentation of reasons why an apprenticeship was the best thing for me and it convinced them on the spot.”

“When searching for degree apprenticeships, Accenture was one of the first companies that popped up.

When I went to the insight day, I felt that there was a real sense of community in the company and the company encourage their employees to grow and develop as people and as employees.

From there I knew that it was the place for me. I was so happy.”

“I like my job because there’s so many opportunities to work with different people, to work on different projects that interest you. So, my main advice to someone wondering what to do next is always follow your gut. A lot of people will tell you what they think you should do, but will that make you happy?”

“I was lucky enough to have attended Accenture’s open day, during which they talked us through what they were looking for during the process. This helped, but if you don’t have that opportunity then reach out and ask the hiring team at that company.”

“Within my application I had was required to demonstrate my willingness to learn and my passion for technology, as recruiters want to know that you are passionate about what you are looking to learn. I had to ensure my statements were all back up with relevant examples; one particular method I used was the STAR technique. I also had to highlight my soft skills, such as customer service, to show that I can engage with people and gain the clients’ trust from a sales perspective.

“Earning a place as an apprentice isn’t about your specific subjects or grades; it’s more about having a strong interest in the role, your experience and your soft skills. In an interview, you should always be yourself, show your passion and believe in yourself!”

MEET JUDE

Jude is a Cyber Apprentice from Thales.

“Believe it or not I started out wanting to be a vet! But a career in technology was always on my mind as my Dad works as a software architect.

I wasn’t aware of cyber security, and that a career in that area was a possibility; I went to an all-girls school and it wasn’t commonly talked about. However, amidst the WannaCry attacks on the NHS we had someone come into our school to give a talk – from that point on I was very intrigued and wanted to explore the subject further.

Jude is a Cyber Apprentice from Thales

At the time there wasn’t anything for beginners in this industry, but I found out about a competition called CyberStart that involves partaking in cyber-related challenges and puzzles that increase in complexity as you progress. I’ve taken part 3 years in a row, making it to the very final stage in all three.

I’ve been in the apprenticeship programme since September 2022.

I was surprised about how much you’re treated as an actual employee. You’re not there for work experience, and colleagues treat us with so much respect. We’ve been told a few times that apprentices are the future talent of the company.

The university work has been challenging, but in a good way – I work better when I’m challenged.

I wasn’t very well informed about just how good apprenticeships could be.

I didn’t think it would be as reputable as going to university – whereas the actual experience you get here is so much more valuable.

I learn better practically, and it’s very hands on at Thales. Rather than being stuck doing admin or menial tasks, you’re actively getting involved in Thales’ processes and projects.

An apprenticeship is not like school, you’re treated like an adult and expected to perform as such. You have greater responsibility, which comes with a lot more freedom!”

MEET DARA

Dara is a Marketing Intern for Fugro in Aberdeen.

“I studied public relations at university and graduated right at the height of the Covid pandemic, which meant opportunities were few and far between. I decided to stay in my retail job while I looked for other opportunities, and it was then I came across the apprenticeship scheme at Fugro.

Dara is a Marketing Intern for Fugro in Aberdeen

“With it being six months long, I was initially a little cautious but I decided to take the plunge as I really couldn’t see myself staying in my current job for much longer and I was keen to make a move into something where I could see myself building a career.

“I’ve been given a massive amount of support from Fugro to help improve my confidence which has been fantastic, finding myself in new situations and projects where I’m learning a huge amount.

“The main highlight during the apprenticeship was being given the responsibility to help run a client event in Aberdeen, while having only been at the company for six weeks. The response and feedback was extremely positive, and it gave me a major boost to my confidence in the role.

“Don’t settle for the first opportunity that you come across after studying. It can be a very stressful time after you graduate trying to land a role and feeling like you need to be immediately doing something relevant to your degree. But the reality is keeping your options open, biding your time as I did, and being patient can pay off. That opportunity that might be slightly out of your comfort zone may turn out to be the best decision in the long run.”

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