Amanda Cooper, UK Head of Strategic Capability Planning at Thales UK explores the benefits of apprenticeships and why she chose a vocational course.
What prompted you to undertake a vocational route into work?
I attended an all-girls Grammar school where I did really well in all the STEM subjects but (fortunately as it turned out) failed to get the A-Level results required for automatic acceptance to my chosen University. I still wanted to pursue a STEM career and found a locally-based sandwich Higher National Diploma (HND) in Software Engineering which sounded really interesting so I applied. I spent the first year in education, then the next 15 months working in the sponsoring business (GEC) before going back to college for a year to finish the course.
What was your progression route after completing your course?
After completing my HND I was employed by GEC as a qualified software engineer working on exciting projects such the Typhoon fighter jet and mine-hunting sonar systems. I built up my skills and worked my way up to Software Programme Manager. I had my daughter a few years later and wanted to return to work part time so I moved into resource planning, then once I was ready to take another full time role I became the Resource Planning Manager. This was obviously not an engineering role and not one that I’d been formally trained for, but because I’d spent time working in resource planning I’d picked up the skills for the role. My past experience in engineering gave me a unique understanding of what the business required.
From there I was given the opportunity to project manage a UK-wide company transformation project in the area of resource management and business planning and have worked in change management and skills and capability development ever since, which I love.
I now get to support Thales UK in engaging with the next generation of engineers, and working with the business to make sure we have all the skills we need to thrive.
What do you think is the best thing about choosing a vocational course?
The best thing is definitely the exposure to the workplace; I started my career straight after ‘A’ levels, but still had the opportunity to train and get the higher qualifications I needed. It made for a much easier transition into work. I got immediate experience of industry, which I wouldn’t have got at university, and because the training was very specific I felt completely ready to start working when I finished my course. The industry year of my sandwich course included a rotation within the business, so even before I started working for the business full-time I had a really great understanding of all the different departments, how they work and how they contribute to the organisation’s outcomes. I didn’t have to pay for my training so I never had to worry about paying back any debt, plus I earned a salary during my middle year.
What advice would you give to anyone considering an apprenticeship?
I would definitely suggest looking into a degree apprenticeship. It usually takes one year longer than a university degree but you have the huge advantages of business exposure, experience and pay!
In your opinion, what are the biggest advantages of hiring apprentices for businesses?
Apprentices can be hired initially at a lower salary than full graduates, but more importantly they can be immediately useful and can be trained to fill the exact skills gaps the business has, fitting seamlessly into the team.