Taking an engineering degree apprenticeship
Shannon is studying for a degree and putting her knowledge into practice via an engineering degree apprenticeship. Here’s her story so far.
- 2011 – started working part-time as a waitress while studying for GCSEs and A levels
- 2013 – taught in schools and assisted a medical programme in Malawi as a volunteer
- 2014 – completed A levels in chemistry, physics and maths
- 2014 – joined Jaguar Land Rover as a degree apprentice
- 2016 – achieved a foundation degree
- 2016 – began second year of applied engineering degree at the University of Warwick
I knew I wanted to get a degree and work in engineering, but I wasn’t fond of the idea of going to university. I don’t know why – I just never really fancied it. So a degree apprenticeship where I could get six years of on-the-job experience and a degree ticked all of my boxes.
First experiences of engineering
I first got interested in engineering when the army held a careers talk at my school, and they recommended engineering to me. I then did an experience week with the Royal Engineers and absolutely loved it. I was able to actually get my hands dirty and saw that engineering was really technical and involved the practical application of my favourite school subjects. I enjoyed it so much that I applied to do my A levels at a military college and hoped to get into engineering through the army, but was unable to do so due to an allergy.
I found out about a Jaguar Land Rover scheme called ‘Young Women in the Know’ through an email at school. I spent a week at Jaguar Land Rover learning about the company and more about engineering, and during that week they introduced me to apprenticeships. There were quite a lot of people in their 50s or 60s who had worked there since they had been apprentices, so it seemed a good place to start out. Afterwards, I did a lot of online research to find out more about apprenticeships.
I started as an apprentice in 2014. The first year was spent entirely studying for my foundation degree in engineering at Warwickshire College Group. I would work for Jaguar Land Rover over holidays, but it was only for a week at a time so never felt like too much. In the second year I only went to college one or two days a week, and got a bit more used to working. I got a distinction in my foundation degree and passed an exam that allowed me to skip the first year of my bachelors degree. I am now studying for the second year of my applied engineering degree at the University of Warwick. I have a week of university every six weeks, which is called block-release.
Currently I’m working in the suspension systems architecture department on automating the design process of chassis components using computer aided design. There are around 30 people in my department. I work in a team of four, and the rest of my team have at least 20 years’ experience each. The work I’m doing is very new so I’m on an equal footing to the rest of my team, but I’ve also learned a lot from them. I can see myself staying here for the rest of my career. There are so many different types of job within the company; there’s not much opportunity to get bored.
My biggest challenge is probably managing my time. Apart from work, I play rugby, learn Spanish, and am a member of the cheerleading squad at university. There were around 80 people who started as apprentices at the same time as me, so I got to meet a lot of people around my age who were interested in the same things I was. This was great for networking as well as socialising. Those people now work in different departments, so I know people from all over the company.
Advice for students
Definitely look for opportunities to do work placements and get experience. Go out of your way to look for these experiences, because my weeks with the army and with Jaguar Land Rover completely shaped what I ended up doing. It gives you a real insight into what that industry is like – one you can’t get from just being told about it.
Showing that you’re interested and intrigued by what an employer or university is doing will be helpful in any interviews you may have. During my apprenticeship interview I had a list of about ten questions I wanted to ask and it was a great opportunity to find out as much as I could about Jaguar Land Rover. Questions can show an interviewer how you think and how you would approach problems too. While exam results aren’t the be-all and end-all, they do help you get your foot in the door. My offer was conditional, so I needed good results to get where I am today.