National Apprenticeship Week 2020: celebrating Defence apprenticeships

From engineering to finance, hospitality to cyber security, the Ministry of Defence is one of the largest providers of apprenticeships in the UK. Over 20,000 apprentices are currently in training in Defence across the Armed Forces and Civil Service.

To mark National Apprenticeship Week (3–9 February 2020), our apprentices and their teams will be sharing experiences of what it’s like to be an apprentice in the world of Defence.

Lydia Nightingale, Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO)

Lydia is an apprentice at DIO, gaining on-the-job experience in project management and wider Defence.

‘I applied for an apprenticeship in DIO as I wanted to kick-start a career in project management and believed the combination of continued learning and on-the-job experience was the right fit for me. Before my apprenticeship, I had completed a MSc in International Security and wanted to continue my professional development in project management in the defence industry.

‘Being an apprentice allows you to develop new skills in an ever changing, challenging environment. By gaining industry-recognised qualifications, I can pursue a career in project management both within the MOD and wider government.

‘I have been project manager for the Women’s Network in Major Programmes and Projects and have delivered two events: the first being an annual conference at the Royal Military Academy and the second being an exploration into Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace. Furthermore, I have had the opportunity to work with the NATO Leaders Meeting project team, a project being run in tandem between the MOD and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

‘I am working on completing the Association for Project Management Project Management Qualification and my line management have been supportive in allocating 20% time for off-the-job learning. Being an apprentice is unique and has allowed me to explore a multitude of different teams and led me to work on some of the most significant projects in Defence, including the F-35 and AJAX programs. My greatest achievement to date has undoubtedly been my involvement in the NATO Leaders Meeting and my work in the recovery of the United States Infrastructure Programme.

‘I have been pushed outside of my comfort zone and have been given the space needed to continually develop both personally and professionally, supported by a wide range of networks and teams.

‘With fantastic opportunities for school leavers or those looking for a career change, an apprenticeship offers you the support necessary to develop professionally and positions you well to kick-start a career in your chosen field. I look forward to sharing my skills and experiences for years to come.’

Steward Gessan Alexander, Royal Navy

Gessan is originally from the Caribbean island of Dominica and joined the Royal Navy in February 2018 under the Steward apprenticeship. She is spending National Apprentice Week at sea on the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier whilst the ship conducts F-35B deck landings and take-offs.

Gessan left college with an Associate’s degree in Law Enforcement and Paralegal Studies, but joined the Steward branch in the Navy to have the chance to make a difference and do something exciting, while having opportunities to develop herself.

Having just completed her apprenticeship and gaining a Level 2 NVQ in Hospitality, her day-to-day job involves stewarding for the ship’s Commanding Officer and hosting groups of VIPs when there are functions onboard.

‘The Navy provides you with opportunities where you can further develop yourself, not only on an educational level, but on a personal level as well. You learn many skills, get to travel the world and learn new cultures and meet new people.

‘It doesn’t just come with great qualifications for any branch that you’re in, it also gives you an upper hand because of the skills you obtain, and it’s free.’

With the opportunities for progression in her branch, Gessan could eventually achieve a Level 4 in Hospitality and Level 2 in Business Administration. As well as her career qualifications, she has also completed training in first aid, weapons handling and navigation.

‘You receive a lot of support from your chain of command and the learning centres and also from your colleagues who are always keen to help you when you do not know certain things.’

Luke Hudson, British Army

Luke is an engineering apprentice at 24 Commando, Royal Engineers.

‘The main thing that drew me to the Royal Engineers was the fact I’d be able to get a trade. I’ve always loved construction, so what better way than to join the Army and use my trade to help others.

‘I joined the Army at 16 and then went on to do the Commando course. Within the space of a week I deployed on Operation Ruman, a humanitarian aid and disaster relief operation in the Caribbean after Hurricane Irma hit in 2017. Our job as Royal Engineers was to go out there as the initial wave, restore the main facilities such as schools and hospitals, and dish out any aid donated by charities like the Red Cross. I’d say that’s one of my greatest achievements to date.

‘In just three years after leaving my school in Birmingham, I was leading construction tasks on a school roof in the Caribbean. Not many people at 19 can say that.

‘I’ve also recently gained my Level 2 NVQ in Carpentry and Joinery as part of the apprenticeship program. It’s designed so that soldiers can gain a recognised civilian qualification within their trade and enhance their skills and drills so that they are ready for big deployments. And it also helps with skills you don’t even notice such as time management.

‘I get to work with all sorts of people from different backgrounds and everyone I work with is motivated and willing to work for each other, no matter what the situation. In an apprenticeship, no two days are the same.’

Laura Horne, RAF

Laura is from York and previously worked as a PE teacher for 10 years before joining the RAF. Coming from a family with a history of RAF service, she had always harboured a secret desire to serve in the Armed Forces and wanted a new challenge.

She is currently training to be an Aircraft Mechanical Technician and her graduation from RAF Halton was her career highlight so far.

‘I really appreciate the quality of the apprenticeship I am working towards and how widely it is recognised outside of the RAF too. To anyone thinking of following in my footsteps, I would definitely say take the opportunity.’

Khalid Abdallah, RAF

Khalid is an apprentice Weapon Technician currently training at No 1 School of Technical Training at RAF Cosford.

He joined the RAF in 2019 after studying applied chemistry at university. The degree didn’t lead to any meaningful employment, so he decided to strike out on a different career path as he always had an interest in working on aircraft.

‘The apprenticeship was a great way to get qualifications and experience while earning a wage at the same time.’

The highlight of his career so far was walking out on to the Wembley pitch prior to last year’s FA Cup Final helping to carry on the banners prior to kick off.

Jon Wilkes, RAF

Jon is a Mechanical Transport Driver serving in the RAF Reserves on 605 (County of Warwick) Squadron at RAF Cosford.

He previously served as an RAF Policeman between 1986 and 1991 where he specialised as a dog handler. After leaving the RAF he spent time working for the RSPCA and as a Prison Officer, and also gave his time as an RAF Cadet Instructor. He was inspired to re-join by an advert for the RAF Reserves.

After returning to the RAF in 2016, he finished his driving apprenticeship in 2018, gaining qualifications to drive a wide range of vehicles. Since joining the Reserves he has had the opportunity to work on the Cosford Air Show and multinational training Exercise Cobra Warrior.

‘There should be no stigma attached to apprenticeships.’

Simon Siddle, RAF

‘Cyber is an increasingly important part of day-to-day life and I wanted to work in that environment.’

Simon is from Bristol and has served for 4 months in an RAF ICT apprenticeship. He wanted a job where he was surrounded by information and IT, and would have the opportunity to travel.

‘It’s the best choice out there for apprenticeships and you gain so much confidence and self-pride. It’s worth it.’

Dayne Lenton, DE&S

As someone with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Dayne struggled at school. But, since becoming an apprentice, he has excelled in the academic part of his three-year advanced engineering and management course.

‘I didn’t do as well as I really should have when I was in school. I was poorly managed, I didn’t do very well as I didn’t have the support, so I wanted to throw myself back into education and I’ve managed to do much better.

‘In my first year in college, I managed to get full marks and a distinction and, so far in the first year of my Higher National Certificate, I’ve got distinctions across the board again.

‘That’s led to me receiving a letter of commendation from the assessment board which I’m really proud of as I’ve never really received any acclaim for high marks.

‘We spend six months in each post, so you really get a good feel of the business as a whole. You get to see lots of different, interesting things and are set lots of different challenges.

‘The tailored training that you get is excellent because you get multiple qualifications and hopefully the job at the end. You also get the chance to network and make contacts within the MOD and within industry, and you make some excellent friends through the other apprentices and the teams that you work in.

‘You get so many opportunities to go away as well, I’ve been up to North Wales and I went to see the F-35 take off and land.

‘I was worried I might get forgotten and left out of all of the fun things, or the big, important things but every team I’ve been in has really tried to involve us and give us meaningful work that interests us, keeps us moving along and maintains a drive to become better engineers.

‘This is the best employer I’ve ever had — there’s so much available to you here.’

Tanya Dickson, DE&S

Tanya is a first-year marine engineering apprentice. Before beginning her apprenticeship, she previously worked as a learning services coordinator.

‘My last job wasn’t really challenging my brain enough. I wanted to try something completely different and do something that made a difference. I went onto the Civil Service Jobs website and came across this particular apprenticeship. I’m a little bit older, so I didn’t think it would apply for me.

‘I just thought I’d try something new, something challenging. Being a woman, I think it’s quite important to break stereotypes and get involved in jobs like this as well.

‘Filling in the application, reading the job description and what kind of qualification you receive at the end of it, I didn’t actually think I’d even be able to get into it.

‘DE&S really provide tailored training, which has been really good. I think all the staff have been supportive and, as a company, the benefits you receive for working with them are great. The pay is a lot better than other apprenticeship schemes I’ve noticed. Being older and having more commitments, that’s important.

‘Just working for the Civil Service, you do get a lot of benefits such as flexi-time, which give you a really good work-life balance. And, at the end of the apprenticeship the actual qualifications you get are fantastic.

‘There are lots of opportunities to try different things and there are lots of different career paths around the country.

‘There’s ships, submarines, air vehicles… I just think there’s a vast number of opportunities and lots of different areas we can get into, and with the qualifications you get you can do anything with them.’



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Ministry of Defence

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