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Jessica Sales speaking at a Royal Society  diversity event
Jessica Sales

Jessica’s career as a chemist started with an apprenticeship. Her dedication has been recognised as a finalist at Cogent’s UK Life Science Skills Awards.

A-level to apprenticeship

Jessica’s interest in science came at an early age; she says “I’ve always been interested in science and finding out how and why things worked the way they did.” During her A-levels, in addition to the sciences and maths, she also studied child care, learning and development.

“They were the subjects I enjoyed learning about rather than maybe being the best subjects that I was good at. I had two A-level chemistry teachers that sparked my interest in chemistry – they believed in me.”

Originally wanting to go to university, Jessica received five conditional offers but quickly realised she couldn’t afford it. She recalls “I am one of four children in our house and so my parents weren’t able to help me financially like the government had expected them to.”

Sourcing alternatives, Jessica gained an apprenticeship at SI-Group Ltd, a global manufacturing company making chemical intermediate products. “I chose SI Group-UK because the job was interesting and appealed to my interest in chemistry. The analytical techniques that were used in the quality and control and environmental departments I recognised from doing some theory work in my chemistry A-level.”

You get out what you put in

Jessica Sales wearing a hard hat, operating machinery On a day-to-day basis, Jessica works in the analytical department. She is focused on quality control, where she tests phenolic samples using gas and liquid chromatography, and Karl Fischer titrations for water testing. “I am situated in the laboratory but I also take part in internal checks and calibrations of instruments and ordering the lab equipment for our quality control, environmental and plant labs.”

As part of her apprenticeship, she studies chemical science at Manchester Metropolitan University, where she completes work-based projects for units in her first and second year. She says “you have to be self-motivated and get organised, as a lot of the theoretical side of the apprenticeship is self-taught using online resources sent from the university.”

“I feel that apprenticeships are the best way into a science profession as you gain practical as well as theoretical skills, which can help further your career and give you a starting point ahead of people who may have just gone to university.”

Jenny Rann, Jessica’s supervisor at SI Group-UK says “SI Group has gained a lot from having Jess as an apprentice; after only a short time with us she is already a valued member of our analytical department. I really believe that she is a perfect example of what apprenticeships are about. They are not just about gaining qualifications but also about gaining important work experience and increasing life skills.”

Their minds have been changed

Jessica has experienced a stigma towards apprenticeships, “I was questioned if I was doing the right thing for my career, but after talking to people and showing them the work I have completed, their minds have been changed.”

“Based on my experience, I believe that a lot of women don’t know that apprenticeships are available for careers in science, as most are in areas like construction and accountancy. I think there should be more male and female role models to take up opportunities in promoting science, not only within schools but also in the media.”

In the future, Jessica would like to finish her foundation degree and then complete her BS(Hons) degree in chemical science. “I would like to further my knowledge in the areas of manufacturing and quality, enovironment, health and safety for the chemical industry, to help with my progress at SI Group-UK.”

Jessica is well on her way in progressing her career in the chemical sciences, “I was selected as one of four finalists for Cogent's UK Life Science Skills Higher Apprentice of the Year 2014 award, as well as completing a presentation at the Royal Society on their Diversity Day 2014 about women in science and apprenticeships as a route into science.”

“I believe that if you have a goal set in mind you can achieve anything. Barriers are never permanent and there are organisations and people that can help you obtain the career that you would like. If you are not happy with something, speak out and set out to change it.”

Words by Jenny Lovell
Images courtesy of Jessica Sales and © Royal Society
Published October 2014

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