Graduate apprentice a first for engineering firm

AJ Engineering & Construction has become one of the first in the north to take on an engineering Graduate Apprentice.

Laura Mair (20) has joined the firm and will study for a bachelor’s level degree while working for the company.

Heriot Watt University is AJ Engineering’s education partner for the GLA.

And whilst offering apprenticeships is nothing new for AJ, MD Alan James explained he was excited his firm was embracing this new work-based learning route.

Apprentices are the lifeblood of AJ Eng

He said: “Graduate Level Apprenticeships (GLA) are the next step for work-based learning. With our history of taking on apprentices since the company was created, we jumped at the chance to be involved.

“This is a great way for young people to get a degree whilst actually gaining real-time experience. Laura will carry out her degree with most of her time as an employee being assessed here with us. She will also attend Heriot Watt University one day a week for traditional based learning as well.”

Alan is himself a time served apprentice, starting out with William Reid Engineering Ltd. Alan launched AJ Engineering when William Reid folded.

“I was an apprentice and it seems there has been a rejuvenation of apprenticeships which has been fantastic. However, since I started AJ Engineering it has always been the norm for us to take on apprentices.  It is a great way of filling a skills gap. Apprentices are the lifeblood of our company, and as well as welcoming Laura, I am also delighted to have four other apprentices starting too. My dream is to one day see one of our former apprentices sitting in my chair, running the company. That would be a proud thing and good for the company.”

Education and earning

Laura with AJ project manager and mentor Andrew Morrison.

Laura whose GLA is in Engineering, Design and Manufacturing said she was delighted to join the AJ team. She said: “I have a HNC in Mechanical Engineering and once that finished I wasn’t sure what I to do. I am fascinated by mechanics and I loved physics at school, but I wasn’t sure where it would lead me. Then I saw this opportunity and got the post. It really suits me as I wanted to get stuck in and just get going in the work place. Now I feel I have the best of both worlds. I can get an education, but learn on the job, there is nothing that can really compare to that.”

Also starting at AJ Engineering in the same week as Laura are apprentices in Welding and Fabrication, Bethany Bass (25), Angus Duggie (27), Calum Openshaw (18) and Jake Innes (16).

Calum explained he needed this opportunity: “I didn’t get on too well at school and university wouldn’t work for me. I contacted AJ Engineering to ask for work experience and they were really open to that, then I found out about the apprenticeship and applied and this is exactly what I wanted. Not everyone fits into classroom-based learning. Working this way means I am learning a skill, I’m also getting an understanding of a workplace environment. I am getting paid and at the end of the apprenticeship, there is the potential to remain here too.”

How Graduate Apprenticeships developed

Graduate Level Apprenticeships were developed by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) working with employers and education, supported by European Social Funds.

They support the Scottish Government’s youth employment strategy and were developed in line with Sir Ian Wood’s recommendations for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce.

Amanda Mason, employer services from SDS, said: “AJ Engineering are a great example of a local company using work-based learning and apprenticeships to develop their workforce.”

Gathering pace

Graham Alexander, general manager at AJ Engineering said: “Graduate Level Apprentices are new, but interest in them in gathering pace and having been involved from the onset we would recommend this to other businesses out there. Skills Development Scotland fully fund the GLAs so there is no cost to the apprentice and the employer only has to cover their salary. It’s a win, win. The apprentices get trained to a higher level than ever possible before, they don’t rack up any debt and they get experience in the workplace. The employer is able to fill a skills gap and is able to support a young person through their education and train them to the level required for their industry.”

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