Case study

Apprentice project engineer — Adam Greenstreet

After completing his A-levels, Adam managed to land a degree apprenticeship with Airflow Developments, where he gets to work as a project engineer while studying towards the BEng Mechanical Engineering at the University of Hertfordshire

Why did you decide to do an apprenticeship?

I knew a friend who got an apprenticeship, and he really sold the concept to me. The idea of being paid to learn made complete sense, especially as none of the universities I had visited particularly appealed to me, and university life during the pandemic seemed pretty bleak.

Did you require any previous experience in engineering?

I didn't really have any engineering-specific experience when I started at Airflow. I did some work experience at a primary school, rather than anything technical-related.

However, I had gained practical skills from my resistant materials technology (RMT) GCSE course as well as my life outside of school.

Everyone expects you to be a bit of a blank canvas when you start as an apprentice - what they want is someone who can learn and develop from those around them.

How did you find and apply for your apprenticeship?

I started off using websites like Indeed, but the 'Find an Apprenticeship' page on GOV.UK was far more useful.

A lot of adverts had similar questions for the preliminary application, so I had built up a bank of answers that could be tweaked where necessary and reused.

How does the apprenticeship work?

I am at university one day a week, except for the first and last week of every term, when I am in all week. It is a four-year course, with the normal three years' worth of content stretched over the extra year to accommodate the fewer hours spent on campus. The rest of the time I work 9am-5pm in the office.

I am part of a very small team, so my responsibilities are effectively dealing with all engineering matters across the company.

What do you most enjoy about your apprenticeship?

I enjoy studying with people my own age and behaving like a normal student, while also having the financial security to go to the pub without worrying about affording the next round, or driving my car and knowing I can afford petrol.

What aspects do you find challenging?

The most challenging aspect is balancing study with my social life, especially as normal students would be able to study while I am at work. Because I still live at home, I think people forget that I am still at university. I am getting better at it, but it still feels bad not meeting friends to prioritise studying.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

Recent changes to government legislation meant that over a year's worth of work was required to make one of our products compliant. Achieving compliance with a government-registered test house has got to be my career highlight, not just because of the amount of work required, but because of the impact I had. It showed that I could make valuable contributions to challenging projects.

What are your plans for after your apprenticeship?

If I continue enjoying my studies as much as I am currently, I would definitely consider studying for a Masters degree. Mechatronic design is an area I am particularly interested in, so if the opportunity doesn't arise with Airflow, that is hopefully where I'll look next.

What would you say to those thinking of doing an apprenticeship?

  • Even if you aren't certain, apply to some programmes. It will give you a better idea of what is on offer, and interview experience is invaluable. The recruitment process for graduate jobs is very similar to apprenticeships, so even if nothing comes of it, the experience will be useful later on.
  • Apprenticeships offer real-world, salaried experience with funded education and the confidence you can hold your own in a professional workplace, but you do miss out on freshers' week and the full university experience.
  • Although an apprenticeship salary may look small on the job advertisement, you should also consider that an apprentice is also getting over £9,000 a year through the education they receive. On the other hand, a university student is paying at least that.

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