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Higher Apprentice - solar panels

Joe Astley

Laboratory Technician and Higher Apprentice

What is a Higher Apprenticeship?

I am currently undertaking the Foundation Degree in Chemical Sciences at Manchester Metropolitan University as part of my apprenticeship.  The programme is scheduled to take place over the course of 3 years and I can upgrade to a full degree at the end of the programme by continuing my studies for a further year.

I study my qualification largely through a distance learning model with my employer providing me with half a day per week for study time whilst the University provides me with work, assignments and support through an online portal.  There is also a block residential at Manchester Met whereby I travel up and stay at the University for a week in order to carry out lab work along with apprentices from different companies.

What do you do in your job?

Eight19 develops and manufactures solar panels.  My job is helping with the design and testing.  I largely test what encapsulates the solar panels to see how they react to different conditions with a view to making improvements to the capsules. I also help out with cleaning, checking chemicals and arranging laundry of lab suits.

As I do work for a small employer my role can be quite varied and I get to suggest ideas and see them through 

The half day that Eight19 provides helps immensely and they are also quite flexible as well which is a great help.  My line manager is also very supportive both in my work and my studies.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I actually really enjoy the work itself.  I work with highly experienced and intelligent people and as it is a small company I get exposed to a large amount of varying activities and tasks.  I also really enjoy knowing that I am making a genuine difference to research science as I’m working to optimise the performance of solar panels

What attracted you to your career?

I was actually thinking about going to University but was unsure as to which degree course to take and I also didn’t quite get the A levels grades that I wanted. 

I recognised that work experience was an important factor in developing a career and so figured I could actually start to begin my working career before many of my peers who were going to University.  I therefore thought that an apprenticeship would still enable me to get to the same qualification level as my peers but I could do so whilst gaining experience in industry.

What are the opportunities for career progression?

I really would like to stay within research science and would like to continue my development working for Eight19.

I think communication is really important as if you don’t understand something it’s important to ask questions until you gain clarity.  That is important when I’m studying but even more important when I am working.  I also think being able to work well in a team and getting on with people is very important, especially when working for a small company

What advice would you give for people wishing to enter your career area?

I think it’s important to spend some time considering what you want to do and what the best way to get there is.  University isn’t always the right option and so it is equally important to spend the time researching all of your options.

My family were always very supportive of my choice and thought it to be a very sensible option as I won’t be accumulating student debts whilst undertaking my apprenticeship.

My friends initially wondered why I wasn’t going to University like them, but since I have started they can now see my reasons for doing an apprenticeship; work experience, earning a wage and no student debts!  In fact one University friend recently commented that they wished they’d considered the apprenticeship option.

I actually think that in 3-4 years’ time I shall be in a very strong position compared to other people my age – I shall have been working for 3-4 years, gained the qualifications, been earning money and have no student debts!!

How did you get started?

I didn’t really know much about apprenticeships when I was choosing my A Levels or even considering University options, but I did know that University didn’t really feel right for me.  I therefore did some research to see what other option might be available and came across the government’s apprenticeship website where the apprenticeship opportunities are advertised.

I had finished my A levels, having studied ICT and Forensic Science and had actually begun working at a local college as an advanced apprentice in their labs. 

I then saw an apprenticeship advertisement on the ‘find an apprenticeship’ website working for Eight19 which sounded very interesting and so I applied.  It was actually an advanced apprenticeship so I found it quite easy to begin with as much of the work I had already completed as part of my programme at the College.  Eight19 however recognised this and quickly progressed me onto the Higher Apprenticeship.   

 

“I think communication is really important as if you don’t understand something it’s important to ask questions until you gain clarity. ”

How did I get started?

I then saw an apprenticeship advertisement on the ‘find an apprenticeship’ website working for Eight19 which sounded very interesting and so I applied.

Career progression

I really would like to stay within research science and would like to continue my development working for Eight19.

Skills used

Communciation skills
team working
Problem solving
Practical lab skills

“I actually think that in 3-4 years’ time I shall be in a very strong position compared to other people my age ”