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Apprentice spotlight: Rebecca Wolfenden – why I chose an apprenticeship

Rebecca NAW
With more than 800 apprentices in training, BAE Systems in the UK is one of the biggest apprentice trainers in the UK.

As National Apprentice Week (3 – 7 March ) gets underway we asked our Apprentice of the Year, Rebecca Wolfenden, to tell us more about her experience as an apprentice.

When did you first hear about BAE Systems?
It was September 2008 when I was 17 that I actually applied for an apprenticeship at BAE Systems.
I had just done my A-levels in English, Maths and Art at Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School, so you can probably tell from that I did not really know what I wanted to do.
I quite enjoyed maths and I knew I did not really fancy going to university because of the cost with tuition fees and getting a loan, and I knew a girl who was a couple of years into the apprenticeship scheme.
I didn’t know a lot about the company or apprenticeships in general, so I applied with an open mind.
What were you told about apprenticeships in school or college?
Nothing. I think that is part of the problem we have, there is no enough taught in schools about the options available through apprenticeships.
I was steered down the route of going to university after finishing my A-levels and so deciding to choose an apprenticeship for a short time I felt like I was a bit of a drop out.
The attitude towards apprenticeships needs to change.
I have friends who have come out of university with brilliant degrees and they struggled when they first came out of university to get jobs as the employers of the companies they wanted to work for were looking for work experience, something when working full time towards a degree isn’t possible.
So, you started your apprenticeship at the Preston Training School for a year, but what did you get to do after that?
The first nine months of the apprenticeship you get your basic training at the training school and then you work between the two sites in different placements.
I chose the technical route around 6 months into my first year at the Training School but during the rest of the apprenticeship I still did two craft placements.
 I spent some time in Typhoon final assembly and spent my electrical placement in the High Speed Wind Tunnel.
I would be the first to admit I am not the best at practical work, but I thought it was really important to get an understanding of the part all these things play in creating the end product.
You get a well-rounded education in everything before you choose which direction you want to move into.
What are you doing now?

It is just under a year since I qualified after three-and-a-half years in my apprenticeship and I am now working in the structures team – Structural Health Monitoring.
I am looking at fatigue life on the Typhoon aircraft which involves making sure the aircraft does not exceed its maximum fatigue limits.
On top of that I have completed a foundation degree in aeronautical engineering and I am looking to start another degree in mechanical and production engineering at university.
An apprenticeship offers the possibility of getting both the hands on work experience as well as the theoretical side of a degree, so it really offers the best of both worlds.
How did you feel when you were named the BAE Systems Apprentice of the Year?

Shocked. I know people always say that when they win awards, but I genuinely did not think I would win it.
I turned to my friend when they read my name out and said ‘did they really just say my name?’
It was shock and a real honour to be picked as the Apprentice of the Year against all the other fantastic apprentices there are across the company.
What would be your advice to anyone taking the decision you took at 17?

I would tell them to look at their options and approach everything with an open mind.
Apprenticeships are not for everyone, some people would much rather go to university and, even if they do that, there’s still graduate opportunities within BAE Systems which they can take.
There is so much pressure put on young people to go down the university route and I would advise anyone to look at all the options out there and not see university as the only option.
I went into this with an open mind and I never stop being surprised at the level of opportunities there are out there.