Apprenticeships are shaping workers for our industrial future

Heidi Butterfield has always known she wanted to be an engineer. Inspired by her dad - who has had a successful engineering career - Heidi left school fully intending to follow in his footsteps.

Wednesday, 8th March 2017, 10:56 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:03 am
Harry Mayes

But with a guaranteed job high on her wish-list, the 19-year-old opted against university, and instead secured an apprenticeship - studying for a degree in Design Quality Inspection at the AMRC Training Centre, and working with international manufacturer Kostal UK, in Rotherham.

“An apprenticeship always appealed to me more than university,” said Heidi.

Heidi Butterfield

“I am working and earning a decent wage but also learning skills I need for my career.

“Kostal is a huge international company and there are lots of opportunities – especially to travel which I would like to do in the future.

“Most of my friends are at university. I think I am the only one doing an apprenticeship, but I have made the right decision for me.

“I feel an apprenticeship can give you a head start.

Kerry Featherstone

“I’ll be able to hit the ground running when I have finished my training.”

Heidi is one of 789 learners who have been through the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre’s Training Centre since it opened its doors three years ago, with an additional 100 apprentices starting their training this month. The training centre engages 240 employers from across Sheffield, and provides training for apprentices in the practical and academic skills that engineering and manufacturing companies need to compete globally - from apprenticeship through to higher education.

This week, a number of the centre’s apprentices are showing their support for the tenth annual National Apprenticeship Week - which focuses on celebrating the success of apprenticeships over the last decade. The event runs just one month before the Government introduces its apprenticeship levy aimed at creating three million new apprenticeships in England by 2020.

Abbie Plummer, aged 18, is an Electrical and Mechanical Maintenance apprentice with Symphony Group PLC, in Rotherham.

Dan Swift

After achieving top marks in her GCSEs, Abbie initially stayed on at sixth form to study A Levels but found she wasn’t enjoying being in the classroom.

“It wasn’t my way of learning. I like practical learning,” said Abbie, of Brinsworth.

“When I was younger my grandad - a steel engineer - had a shed full of tools and machinery. I have always had an interest in engineering and ‘making things’ and I’d spend hours in there.

“When I first visited the AMRC I was blown away by the facilities. Through my apprenticeship I’m developing hands-on skills and gaining industry experience. I love what I do now. I would not want to do anything else. It’s an amazing opportunity – learning and gaining skills while getting paid to study and I won’t have any debt.”

Abby Plummer

Jake Cawthorne, aged 19, is a Mechanical and Electrical Maintenance apprentice with Gripple, in Sheffield.

Jake, of Charnock, a former Birley Community College student, will be a third generation engineer when he qualifies.

“I like practical learning and I don’t enjoy being in a classroom so the apprenticeship was perfect for me,” said Jake.

“I’ve always worked on cars in my spare time. I have a 1965 Ford Anglia which I bought and restored. Many of the skills I have developed from working on cars are useful in my apprenticeship. To get a job where work is not work, it’s an extension to your hobby, is amazing.”

Harry Mayes, aged 18, is a Mechanical Maintenance apprentice with Professional Lifting Services, in Sheffield.

“I’m a very practical person and I don’t think I could do something where I would be sitting still for long parts of the day,” explained Harry, a former Penistone Grammar School pupil.

Jake Cawthorne

“I approached the AMRC Training Centre and after getting through an assessment I was sent for interviews with several companies, all local to where I lived and offering maintenance apprenticeships. I was fortunate to be offered apprenticeships with two of them.

“I would say the key is waiting for the right fit for you. There are lots of companies which the AMRC works with so there is always a right fit.

“There are lots of incentives as well during your apprenticeship; you get salary increases for reaching various milestones as you progress through your apprenticeship.

“I would say to anyone considering an apprenticeship, just go for it. What have you go to lose? And if you already have an employer then ask them if you can come here! I want to get fully qualified and then work my way up the career ladder.”

Training Centre director Kerry Featherstone said: “We are providing progression routes through to a degree and ultimately masters and beyond, all which now support the changes in the apprenticeship landscape and the degree apprenticeship standard.

“As a university founded with a mission to provide both economic benefits and educational opportunity to local people, I am proud that the AMRC Training Centre is leading the way, demonstrating how young people might access training and employment opportunities in ways which also directly offer progression into a higher education of the highest quality.”

Training Centre programme manager Dan Swift added: “Over the last 12 months we have seen a sharp increase in demand from companies of all shapes and sizes wanting to take on apprentices at all levels.

“Companies are seeing the value of hiring apprentices.

“They can address skills gaps and bring new ideas and techniques to a company, which in turn can help companies to grow and develop.”


We are searching for an Apprentice of the Year to be crowned at our awards ceremony on Tuesday, May 16. Entrants can come from Sheffield, Doncaster, Barnsley, Chesterfield, Rotherham or Mansfield. You can be nominated by a colleague or by your firm. If you need help with your entry why not book a free place on our awards workshop which is on March 15 from 10am until noon. The competition will be judged by Frances Bishop from TV’s Apprentice show. To book a place on the workshop call 07803 505658 or email [email protected] or log on to North Midlands & South Yorkshire Apprentice Awards

Heidi Butterfield
Kerry Featherstone
Dan Swift
Abby Plummer
Jake Cawthorne