Some of Thales UK’s youngest rail signallers have been sharing their thoughts in time for this week’s National Apprentice Week (7-11 February). Organised by the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), the nationwide event attempts to show companies the benefits of offering young people much-needed training and job opportunities.
James King (17) and Tommy Ward (21) are two of 16 apprentices working for Thales UK’s transportation systems business while also attending London’s City of Westminster College. Apprentices divide their time between on-the-job training and classroom-based learning, gaining a range of qualifications and experience.
Both youngsters focused on the difference in learning environments between learning purely in academia and apprenticeships. “There are lots of people who learn much better through hands-on experience rather than in an academic environment,” says Ward; King points out the pitfalls of spending significant sums of money in higher education: “This is the best route I could ever get, and it is far better than spending £9,000 a year on a university course.”
The two apprentices, specialising in rail signalling, were also thankful for the opportunity and keen to move up the company ladder after finishing their apprenticeships. “This is a big opportunity in a major global company in the area of railway engineering. There are big rail signalling projects going on in Portugal and Canada, for example,” says King. Meanwhile Ward talks about previous attempts to secure an apprenticeship. “I tried to get on an apprenticeship four years ago with another company, but was unsuccessful, so this time I plan to stay within the company. Beyond transportation there are a wide range of opportunities in other sectors that Thales plays a key role in, such as security and defence.”
Thales UK welcomed the 16 new apprentices into the business in September 2010 on a scheme that enables them to ‘earn while they learn’, building skills and experience while at the same time earning a competitive annual starting salary. The new three year work-based apprentice scheme was created to meet future needs and to grow the Thales technical skills base.
Victor Chavez, Chief Executive of Thales UK is keen to stress the importance of investing in Britain’s future engineers and hopes Thales’ example will spur on other companies to do likewise. “Apprentices are a vital part of the company’s strategic planning in the future. We need young people who can, in a structured learning environment, develop within the company. Our apprentices continue to demonstrate that it is the way in which they train that enables them to challenge conventional wisdom, and add value to all aspects of our business, inside and outside our engineering functions.”
NAW highlights the many advantages of employing and supporting apprentices in the workplace, as well as demonstrating the wide range of apprenticeships available. Being on an apprenticeship programme provides young people with the necessary skills that they will develop and enhance throughout their chosen career path. Employers also achieve considerable benefits by offering apprenticeships, from increased productivity to loyalty by improved staff retention and motivation.