Top of the class

An AJ Engineering apprentice has completed his degree course top of the class and with first-class honours.

Jack Lowes (23) joined the company in August 2019 after applying for a welding job, but after seeing Jack’s potential, and discovering that Jack’s desire had been to complete a degree at Moray College, he was offered the chance to become the firm’s second graduate apprentice.

Jack explained: “I had just finished a HNC in Engineering Systems at Moray College and was working in Tesco. When I started that course, it was supposed to be a degree level course, but unfortunately, the college were unable to commit to this. I’ll admit, as it wasn’t what I had planned, I panicked a bit and started looking for work and spotted the job at AJE.”

Jack joined the AJE team in 2019, but was very quickly offered the opportunity to take on a graduate apprenticeship degree in Design and Manufacturing with Robert Gordons University. He jumped at the opportunity and was given M&E Technical Services Manager, Wilson Burnett as his mentor.

“Working and doing the degree was tough, as I was working full days, then studying at the weekend and evenings. The company were great and ensured I had one day a week to commit to the degree, but I still had to do most of the studying in my own time.

“However, being in the AJE environment was great. Wilson was able to support me, and it also meant I had direct access to other staff members and expertise in the company if I needed support with specific aspects of the course. One time, Wilson was able to get me help from Narro Associates, a consultant engineering company that AJ Engineering regularly work with, when I had some queries for my dissertation. That kind of support was invaluable and wouldn’t have been so easy to access had I just gone to university to study for a degree.”

Jack graduated last August, and not only did he qualify with a first-class honours degree, a few months later he discovered he had also been recognised as the Best Performing Student in the programme.

“The course was tough,” explained Jack. “There was a high drop-out rate. There were originally around 25 students, but on graduation day this had been reduced to nine. That nine all ended up with firsts. However, I was pleasantly surprised to later learn that I had the highest mark and had been awarded best performing student.”

Wilson, who started out with Michelin Tyres in 1978 in an apprenticeship in mechanical and production engineering said surprisingly not much has changed: “Back then, we got day release once a week to do our studies, so I could absolutely understand how important this time was for Jack.

“Jack has really excelled and now that he is qualified we are still able to work together. He really is a credit to himself and to the company.”

Wilson added: “The apprenticeships that we run here at AJE are massively beneficial not only to us as they are carrying out work and learning the way we want them to, but also for the apprentice as they are gaining valuable on the job experience. I would totally advocate young people doing apprenticeships if they can.”

AJ Engineering is no stranger to taking on apprentices.

Alan James is himself a time served apprentice, starting out with William Reid Engineering Ltd. By the end of his time with Wm Reid’s Alan was a projects director.

In 2017, the engineering and construction company became one of the first in the north to take on an engineering graduate apprentice when the scheme was first launched.

Alan said: “First of all, may I offer my huge congratulations to Jack, who has excelled. He is a great asset to AJ Engineering. Since AJE was founded, we have always had apprentices. They are the lifeblood of the company.

“When the Graduate Apprenticeship scheme was launched, we jumped at the chance to be involved. As Jack says, they are a great way to gain real-time experience in the workplace, whilst also learning.

“I was an apprentice and over the last few years, there has been a rejuvenation of apprenticeships which has been fantastic. They are a great way of filling a skills gap. 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.”

Graduate 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.



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