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How an apprentice became an engineer – and how you could become one too

ELEVEN years ago, Adam Hearn had no intention of continuing his education.

He just wanted a steady job, so he accepted a trainee position at Braintree Precision Components (BPC), part of the Hepco Group, a manufacturer of high-precision components for the automation and manufacturing industries.

Victory feeling: Adam Curtis (left) celebrates with Adam Hearn at the National Apprenticeship Awards.

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Victory feeling: Adam Curtis (left) celebrates with Adam Hearn at the National Apprenticeship Awards.

However, BPC had other ideas. The company soon saw Hearn’s potential and started with him teach in CNC (Computerized Numerical Control) turning – skilled industrial cutting with a computer controlled lathe.

As Hearn noted, apprenticeships come at different levels, each corresponding to the stages of formal education and covering a wide range of skills in demand.

What they all have in common is that they are real jobs that allow people to learn and make money at the same time.

Hearn worked four days a week at BPC and studied at the Colchester Institute one day a week. He quickly began to develop new skills and, with the help of his managers, progressed further with an apprenticeship in CNC precision grinding.

Hearn is now due to complete an apprenticeship in the same subject later this year.

It’s quite an achievement for Hearn considering he suffers from mild dyslexia – something he didn’t know until his employers helped diagnose it and which explains why he struggled in school.

BPC supports him in overcoming the challenges involved, including investing in the same software that the college uses to support him so that he can use it in both environments.

“When I started, I just thought I was stepping through the door into an industry that I didn’t really know,” says Hearn. “I hadn’t thought about changing departments and completing training at the time, but they were real stepping stones in my career. I really fell on my feet.”

His manager, Adam Curtis, remembers it a little differently. “Adam is a bit hard on himself,” says the head of production engineering. “He achieved this position through hard work, dedication and a willingness to learn and ask questions.

“He showed a natural talent for hands-on engineering and we thought he could further advance his career by pursuing an apprenticeship. We had a business need in grinding and he was the right man for the job.”

Apprenticeships are just one way for people, whatever their life stage, to acquire the skills employers want.

The government is also helping adults gain skills for life through courses like Skills Bootcamps – free courses that give people the opportunity to build industry-specific skills and a fast track to an interview with a local employer; Free courses for jobs open to adults without an A-level or equivalent qualification (and from April to anyone who is unemployed or earning less than the annual national living of £18,525, even if they have an A-level equivalent qualification or higher); and courses in basic skills in math, English and digital.

For employers, apprenticeships are an effective way to train people in the skills their business needs that are often in short supply locally. For example, BPC is one of the few precision engineering companies in the Braintree region, meaning there isn’t a large pre-existing talent pool to draw from.

At the same time, BPC has an aging workforce, which means it needs to plan carefully to replace the skills it’s losing through retirement. “We are looking for transferrable skills, people with the right mentality. We can teach the other things because we have those skills on the ground,” says Curtis.

And he says there are a multitude of possibilities. When people think of apprenticeships, they generally think of technical and physical jobs. However, the Hepco Group has trainees across the business, including in sales and marketing roles.

Today there is training for most professions that represents a real alternative to studying.

For Hearn, the journey into college was nothing short of life-changing. “I never thought in a million years that I would graduate. You learn so much, not only professionally but also personally. It showed me how to communicate with different people in different places and achieve so much more than I ever thought possible. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Hearn recently won a National Apprenticeship Award and is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Ambassador. He visits local schools and colleges to educate young people about careers in industry. He also mentors junior apprentices within the Hepco group, where he says he is excited about his career opportunities now that his apprenticeship is coming to an end.

“I always say to the trainees I look after: what can happen to me can happen to anyone. If you stick with it, it will open so many doors for you.”

The National Careers Service can help you find, choose, and apply for the right degree.

If you’re not sure which option is right for you, the National Careers Service offers everyone in England free, personalized advice and guidance on learning, training and work.

Its qualified advisors can help you reflect on your needs, make informed decisions about your future and take the next step towards achieving your goals.

For more information on these and other available courses, visit gov.uk/skillsforlife.

https://www.thesun.co.uk/fabulous/17809403/apprenticeships-engineering-training-skills-for-life/ How an apprentice became an engineer – and how you could become one too

Dais Johnston

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