Scottish Apprenticeship WeekNeil Hardie
Apprenticeships have been around since the Middle Ages – as a way of skilled craftsmen gaining the labour of young people at low pay rates in exchange for providing food, lodging and formal training in the craft.
As a result, we associate them with scenes in black and white from the 1960s and before. So you might wonder where apprenticeships fit into the 2020s.
They’re actually more important than ever if we’re to harness the talent of all of Scotland’s youngsters and bolster our world-class engineering sector.
Engineering is a great profession but is still seen as one where you can only be successful if you left school with high grades and a place lined up at university to study it further. If you don’t take this route, you can only expect to work in a dirty role in engineering.
But that’s not the case. And I’m the proof.
Due to dyslexia I wasn’t academic at school. I was therefore keen to leave as soon as I could. Instead of going into further education, I started a four-year engineering apprenticeship with Giddings, Lewis & Fraser in Arbroath.
The first year was spent at Angus Training Group learning the key engineering skills. This is when I discovered something lifechanging – engineering is more than a job – it’s a career choice where the opportunities are endless!
Motivated by this, when I finished my apprenticeship, I continued my engineering education through attending night classes to complement the skills learnt in the workshop. That allowed my career to progress into several roles, eventually moving to Dubai to build and manage a large manufacturing facility before managing several manufacturing facilities in the UK, Germany, Russia and Abu Dhabi for an oil and gas service company.
The knowledge, skills and experience gained in those positions allowed me to set up my own company in additive manufacturing (3D-printing) three years ago. It’s gone on to work with global brands on innovative products, creating bespoke solutions not possible with previous technologies. Last month I spun off its traditional machining outsourcing service to a new company, Angus Machining Solutions Ltd, to better meet demand.
None of those things would have happened without that apprenticeship. It was the door that allowed me to create my future and jobs for other people.
Scotland has an impressive track record in engineering and manufacturing. To maintain and develop this, we must embrace the latest manufacturing technology and, more importantly, encourage all of the next generation to consider engineering and manufacturing as a career choice. To do that we need to change some things.
Schools and parents need to see engineering as the great career it is – with an average advertised salary 28.1% above the average of all Scottish jobs, not a dirty low-paid one.
They also need to accept that an apprenticeship is as good a route into engineering as university. These days there are no wrong paths into engineering and several types of apprenticeship which can ultimately lead to a degree qualification if you want or need one.
To make engineering a career open to all, we must ensure engineering opportunities are accessible regardless of academic ability. That’s where apprenticeships are crucial – by allowing those not engaged by the traditional university route to get into the industry and harness their talent, as I did.
We typically see apprenticeships mainly in large organisations because the payback on an apprenticeship program can take a few years. But engineering and manufacturing in Scotland is now being driven by SMEs, so we need to encourage and support them to create engineering apprenticeships.
Universities are now helping by offering graduate apprenticeships to people who want to study for a degree one day a week while still employed, which benefits all parties.
Apprenticeships can help Scotland harness all its talent and add a new chapter to its great engineering history. They have are part of the future, not the past.
For information about Scottish Apprenticeships click here.