What it's like to do an engineering degree apprenticeship

Image of engineering degree apprentice
Amy Husband is an aerospace engineer degree apprentice at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). She changed apprenticeships after her first year and now shares her experience.

Amy's first apprenticeship wasn’t right for her, so she found one where she could be passionate about the things she learns and her future career. Here is her story so far.

  • 2013–2014: Carried out two summers of work experience at local engineering firms.
  • 2015: Finished A levels in maths, physics and English literature.
  • 2015–2016: Worked as a full-time employee in a retail job.
  • 2016–2017: Began an advanced apprenticeship in aeronautical engineering.
  • 2017: Started current role at Dstl.

Amy says…

Engineering is interesting to me because it’s primarily about solving problems and asking questions. How does something work? Why has that happened? Why is it broken and what can be done to fix it? I asked these questions in my day-to-day life, so this analytical side of engineering really attracted me.

Planning for the future

A family friend helped me to arrange some work experience over the summer at an engineering firm. It was during this time that I first learned about apprenticeships. My family friend let me know about an apprenticeship at the firm and how I would be earning while working. I’d seen other family friends who’d been to university doing jobs they hate to make ends meet. An apprenticeship would let me start doing something I was passionate about sooner.

The teachers and staff at college all pushed me to go to university and it was sort of expected that I would go, partly because of my GCSE grades. I did traipse around a bunch of university open days, but was still adamant that an apprenticeship was for me.

Changing plans

After college, I spent a year working in retail and learning how to drive, after which I started a level 3 apprenticeship in aeronautical engineering at a firm I’d done work experience in. While I enjoyed this apprenticeship, after the first year the job prospects with the employer at the end of my apprenticeship seemed less attractive than when I’d started; it looked like the job I would be doing wouldn’t be directly relevant to the qualification I was working towards.

I’d met apprentices from Dstl during my course, so knew that it ran apprenticeships – but it was only when I did some research online that I discovered I could get a degree through an apprenticeship and that my qualifications met the requirements. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I applied.

Starting over

Dstl focuses on the development and evaluation of future defence and national security equipment. I’m in the second year of my four-year apprenticeship and am based in the weapons systems group. I assist my colleagues with various projects and am developing my knowledge of the roles I could be doing in the future, such as by sitting in on meetings. However, the prime focus for me is to complete my degree.

The first year of my apprenticeship was spent mostly at college in Bristol, so I spent Monday to Friday at college and worked over the holidays. Now, I spend three days a week at work and two days a week studying: I have lectures at the University of the West of England (UWE) on Thursday morning, do independent study on Thursday afternoon and spend Friday in college. The main difference between college and university is the teaching style; there are smaller classes at college and more opportunities to ask questions, but the level of information is the same.

Challenges and advantages

Having worked a full-time job previously, I was used to working for a full week but the transition from only working in holidays to doing a degree and working at the same time was still tough. My apprenticeship is only one year longer than a full-time degree, so there’s a lot to get through. The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is the importance of time management and being able to split my focus evenly. My manager is supportive, so if I do feel like I’m struggling I can potentially have an extra day of study where I catch up.

Fortunately, I was able to stay with my parents for my apprenticeship, as my home is halfway between my courses in Bristol and where Dstl is located. This means that I’m able to save up towards my own house. One of my favourite things about my degree apprenticeship is that I can meet apprentices at other organisations at university. Some apprentices I know have even joined university societies.

Advice for school leavers

You can’t go into an apprenticeship thinking ‘I know everything’. You need to be willing to learn – and you have to have the passion to drive you forward. Not every day is easy, but that spark is what’s going to get you out of bed and get you to university or work. Ultimately, it’s your life and career path, and it’s a lot easier to stick with something if you focus on what you want to do.

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