Women in Engineering Day: five reasons my engineering apprenticeship was the right choice

Bethany Preston, Operational Support Systems Engineer, Arqiva, tells us why she’s glad she chose her engineering apprenticeship.

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According to recent statistics from UCAS, young people are now more likely than ever to go to university. But whilst this academic year saw a staggering one in three students opt for the degree route, it isn’t the only path to success.

Bethany Preston, Operational Support Systems Engineer at Arqiva, joined the communications infrastructure company as an engineering apprentice in 2013 after completing A-Levels in Biology, Chemistry, History and Psychology. Here, she explains why choosing an engineering apprenticeship was the right path for her career development.

1. I built a highly-valued skill set from the get-go

The hands-on training that you receive through apprenticeships gives you a real chance to put your skills into practice and gain competency and confidence in a working environment. You don’t always get on-the-job training as a student, but as a Communications Engineering Apprentice at Arqiva I was able to build up my skills as I worked.

Developing my technical and functional knowledge of satellite transmissions and IP networking at such an early stage in my career ensured that I was fully equipped for my permanent position at the end of the programme. Now I’m a fully qualified engineer, working in the Satellite & Media OSS team in Winchester, and providing telemetry for our Operations team to ensure the smooth delivery of our broadcast services across the globe.

2. I curbed the costs associated with university and earned as I learned

Choosing an apprenticeship over university doesn’t mean missing out on a degree or qualifications. In fact, at Arqiva I was able to study for a Foundation Degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering and a Level 4 Diploma in Professional Competence Diploma for IT & Telecoms Professionals alongside my job, and whilst many of my peers were racking up debts, my engineering apprenticeship meant that I didn’t have to wait until I was qualified to start earning.

There are huge misconceptions surrounding routes into employment, and students are often discouraged from taking a vocational pathway. Schools and sixth forms must work harder to equally promote apprenticeships and address this lack of awareness if the government is to fulfill its policy of having three million apprenticeships by 2020. Negative perceptions around apprenticeships among students, teachers and parents have been found to damage up-take and more needs to be done to challenge views about the suitability of different apprenticeships across genders.

As an apprentice, you’re awarded responsibility and given the opportunity to make a real impact on the business from early in your career. At Arqiva I’ve been involved in numerous high-profile projects, including supporting our coverage of the Winter Olympics and Commonwealth Games.

3. It allowed me to network

Rather than going straight into your permanent team, apprenticeships like Arqiva’s often function on a rotational basis so you’re exposed to a variety of departments throughout your programme. Not only does this allow you to establish a better rapport with key contacts across the business (and industry), but it also gives you a much broader understanding of how other teams work and what their priorities are. Now when I’m collaborating on a project I know exactly how different teams expect things done.

4. I took part in innovative projects

As an apprentice, you’re awarded responsibility and given the opportunity to make a real impact on the business from early in your career. At Arqiva I’ve been involved in numerous high-profile projects, including supporting our coverage of the Winter Olympics and Commonwealth Games. I was also involved in the early foundation of Arqiva’s smart metering network, a programme which today represents a national project integral to reducing water wastage across the UK.

5. It was one step towards solving the skills shortage

The UK engineering sector is currently suffering from a serious skills shortage, and this is being compounded by insufficient numbers of young people, especially girls, choosing it as a career path. A recent report from Engineering UK estimated that the country needs 1.8 million new engineers by 2025, and in order to hit this target it’s vital that we continue to develop the next generation of STEM talent.

During my apprenticeship I became a STEM ambassador, encouraging children to engage with STEM subjects and promoting modern engineering within schools. The invaluable engineering toolkit that I developed during my Arqiva apprenticeship means that I’m more in-demand than ever and I hope that my success story inspires young people to explore alternative routes into engineering.

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