Life as a second year Apprentice - National Apprenticeship Week 2018

James McCarthy, Katie Lockwood and Bradley Evans are three of six Apprentices currently in the second year of their Aeronautical Engineering Apprenticeship with AirTanker. The trio took time out to reflect on life as an Apprentice and the challenges they've faced to date. Here's what they had to say during National Apprenticeship Week .....

Had you always considered an apprenticeship as a possible career path?

James: I completed my A-Levels and knew that university didn’t appeal to me. I recognised that an apprenticeship would give me the skills I needed to work in the aerospace industry more quickly.

Before I successfully applied to AirTanker I worked in Waitrose picking items for online shoppers and at a bakery in Witney. I don’t even like cake! Seriously, when I learned about this opportunity with AirTanker I knew it would open so many doors if I was selected.

Katie: Right from the age of seven I wanted to work with my hands. My dad and grandparents all had careers in this industry and I was always encouraged to follow my dream.

After Year 9 at school I moved to a University Technical College which specialised in engineering and science. It gave me a good grounding which was important because I came to AirTanker straight after completing my GCSEs. It’s still a big transition though.

Bradley: I did a year of Sixth Form and I didn’t want to go on to university. So many people come out of university with large debts and no clear idea of what they want to do next. I applied to AirTanker – it was a very intense process, including telephone interviews, a demanding selection day and facing an interview panel. It was an amazing feeling to find out I was one of the six to be offered an apprenticeship.


 What's the best aspect of being an Apprentice?

Image: Crown CopyrightBradley: Without doubt, working on the aircraft and just learning constantly. We’ve all spent time working in both Line Maintenance, where you get used to troubleshooting and quick turnarounds, and Base Maintenance where the deeper, more time consuming maintenance takes place.

Katie: I’ve particularly enjoyed getting involved in the ‘C’ Checks [an extensive maintenance inspection requiring a large majority of aircraft components to be inspected]. It’s such a comprehensive overhaul that you learn a huge amount in a short space of time.

James: For me, it's knowing that I'm working towards a clear goal and that the work I'm doing now will help me in my future career.

You're all into your second year now - with more opportunities for hands-on experience.  How have you found things so far?

Katie:  It's hard work - but in a good way! It was a real eye-opener for all of us I think in the first year. We took 18 separate exams over nine months as part of our NVQ studies and you need to be fully committed to put the hours of study in. I remember receiving a box of study materials for one module that was huge and thinking ‘how is this possible?’. But you just need to knuckle down.

Bradley: It’s important that people understand the level of studying involved and you need to have a genuine interest in the aerospace industry. It basically becomes your life for two years, but there’s a clear goal at the end of it all. You’re investing in your career. Also, there aren’t many people who get to work on an aircraft every day.

James: I agree – it’s about being motivated. The studying is part and parcel of learning the trade. There are no shortcuts. We spent the first year working with the Resource Group [the accredited training provider for the apprenticeship] which was largely classroom-based. Now we’re based here at The AirTanker Hub at RAF Brize Norton and we are hands-on with the aircraft every day.

Volunteering to mentor

As part of your apprenticeship you have access to volunteer mentors who provide help and guidance. How important have they been?Image: Crown Copyright

Katie: The mentors are incredibly important. We can talk to them about anything, from any well-being issues through to practical day-to-day problems.

James: There is always one mentor available on each shift and it’s good to have someone with experience to turn to if you need help.

Bradley: It’s reassuring, and I think we’ve also found the mentoring idea a very helpful part of our development.

Finally, Katie, you are the only female among the current intake of Apprentices.  What message do you have for girls who might be unsure about a career in Engineering?

Go for it! If you have the passion and determination there’s no reason why you can’t succeed. We get involved in lots of careers fairs and talks at local schools as apprentices. I think perceptions are changing, but it’s a slow process. It’s a little bit like the perception of apprenticeships overall. Their reputation and how they are regarded is improving. People now see that it is a rewarding and respected route towards a good career.

09 March 2018