Comment: I’m proof that an apprenticeship can change a young person’s future

This year’s Scottish Apprenticeship Week starts today. You might wonder where apprenticeships fit into our high-tech 21st century world, but they’re actually more important than ever if we’re to harness the talent of all of Scotland’s youngsters and bolster our world-class engineering sector.

My engineering career would not have happened without that first apprenticeship, says Andy Simpson, managing director of Angus 3D Solutions. Picture: Alan S. Morrison

Engineering is often seen as a profession where you can only be successful if you left school with high grades and a place lined up at university, or else you can only expect to work in a dirty role. But that’s not the case – and I’m the proof.

Due to dyslexia I was not academic at school and keen to leave when I could. Instead of going into further education, I started a four-year engineering apprenticeship with Giddings, Lewis & Fraser in Arbroath. This is when I found out engineering is more than a job – it’s a career choice where the opportunities are endless.

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Motivated by this, after finishing my apprenticeship I continued my engineering education by attending night classes to complement the skills learnt on the workshop. That allowed me to progress, eventually leading to a role in Dubai to build and manage a large manufacturing facility before running several facilities in the UK, Germany, Russia and Abu Dhabi for an oil and gas service company.

The knowledge, skills and experience gained in these positions allowed me to set up my own firm in additive manufacturing (3D-printing) two years ago. None of those things would have happened without that apprenticeship. It was the door to my future.

Scotland has an impressive engineering and manufacturing history. To maintain and develop this, we must embrace the latest manufacturing technology and, more importantly, encourage all of the next generation to consider the sectors as a career choice.

Schools and parents need to see engineering as the great career it is, with an advertised salary 28.1 per cent above the Scottish average, not a dirty low-paid one. And that an apprenticeship is as good a route into it as university.

To make it a career open to all, we must ensure engineering opportunities are accessible regardless of academic ability. That’s where apprenticeships are crucial – by allowing those not engaged by the traditional university route to enter the industry and harness their talent, as I did.

We typically see apprenticeships mainly in large organisations because the payback on an apprenticeship program can take a few years. But engineering and manufacturing in Scotland is now being driven by SMEs, so we need to support them to create these schemes. Universities are now helping by offering graduate apprenticeships to those who want to study for a degree one day a week while still employed, which benefits all parties.

Apprenticeships can help harness Scotland’s talent to add a new chapter to its great engineering history.

- Andy Simpson, MD at Angus 3D Solutions