Moray firm first in north to take on Graduate level apprentice

A MORAY ENGINEERING and construction company has become one of the first in the north to take on an engineering Graduate Level Apprentice.

Laura Mair (20) has joined Forres firm AJ Engineering & Construction Services who, along with its education partner Heriot-Watt University, offer apprentices a route to gain a bachelor’s level degree while working for the company.

And whilst offering apprenticeships is nothing new for AJ Engineering, which also welcomes four other Modern Apprentices this week, managing director Alan James explained he was excited his firm was embracing this new work-based learning route.

He said: “Graduate Level Apprenticeships (GLA) are the next step for work-based learning and of course, with our history of taking on apprentices since the company was created, we jumped at the chance to be involved.

“This is a great way for young people to get a degree whilst actually gaining real-time experience in the work place. Laura will carry out her degree with most of her time as an employee being assessed on tasks carried out here with us. She will also attend Heriot Watt University one day a week for traditional based learning as well.”

Alan is himself a time served apprentice, starting out with William Reid Engineering Ltd. When that company folded, Alan who was by then a projects director launched AJ Engineering.

He explained: “I was an apprentice and it seems that there has been a rejuvenation of apprenticeships which has been fantastic, however, since I started AJ Engineering it has always been the norm for us to take on apprentices.

“It is a great way of filling a skills gap. Apprentices are the lifeblood of our company, and as well as welcoming Laura as our graduate level apprentice, I am also delighted to have four other apprentices starting too. My dream is to one day see one of our former apprentices sitting in my chair, running the company. That would be a proud thing and good for the company.”

Laura whose GLA is in Engineering, Design and Manufacturing said she was delighted to join the AJ team: “I have a HNC in Mechanical Engineering and once that finished I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do.

“I am fascinated by mechanics and I loved physics at school, but I wasn’t sure where it would lead me. Then I saw this opportunity and got the post. It really suits me as I wanted to get stuck in and just get going in eth work place. Now I feel I have the best of both worlds. I can get an education, but learn on the job, there is nothing that can really compare to that.”

Also starting at AJ Engineering in the same week as Laura are apprentices in Welding and Fabrication, Bethany Bass (25), Angus Duggie (27), Calum Openshaw (18) and Jake Innes (16).
Calum explained that this was the opportunity he needed: “I didn’t get on too well at school and I knew that university wouldn’t work for me. I contacted AJ Engineering to ask for work experience and they were really open to that, then I found out about the apprenticeship and applied and this is exactly what I wanted.

“Not everyone fits into classroom-based learning. Working this way means I am learning a skill, I’m also getting an understanding of a workplace environment, I am getting paid and at the end of the apprenticeship, there is the potential to remain here too.”

Graduate Level Apprenticeships were developed by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) working with employers and education, supported by European Social Funds.

They support the Scottish Government’s youth employment strategy and were developed in line with Sir Ian Wood’s recommendations for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce.

Amanda Mason, employer services from SDS, said: “AJ Engineering are a great example of a local company using work-based learning and apprenticeships to develop their workforce.”

Graham Alexander, general manager at AJ Engineering said: “Graduate Level Apprentices are new, but interest in them in gathering pace and having been involved from the onset we would recommend this to other businesses out there.

“Skills Development Scotland fully fund the GLAs so there is no cost to the apprentice and the employer only has to cover their salary. It’s a win, win.

“The apprentices get trained to a higher level than ever possible before, they don’t rack up any debt and they get experience in the workplace. The employer is able to fill a skills gap and is able to support a young person through their education and train them to the level required for their industry.”