Emma Roberts, 18, is a first year apprentice in the Pharmaceutical Technology and Development (PT&D)department at AstraZeneca in Macclesfield. She works as an analytical chemist and she and the other PT&D apprentices at AstraZeneca are studying for a chemical science foundation degree with Manchester Metropolitan University. This is a part time distance-learning course, for which AstraZeneca allow one day a week for study.She started her apprenticeship six months ago after completing A-levels in chemistry, biology, P.E. and applied business.
"At college, we rarely discussed any options other than going to university," explains Emma, "so I did my own research and found the government website on higher apprenticeships in scientific fields, allowing you to work alongside securing a degree.
"I learn more effectively from practical work as opposed to classroom-based learning so I knew straight away that an apprenticeship would fit my learning style much better than going to university. With the apprenticeship, although there are still classroom-based aspects, the practical tasks in my work help to expand my knowledge on a daily basis and allow me to apply my learning in a practical way."
Emma carries out analytical support for on-going drug development projects, building up skills in techniques such as high performance liquid chromatography. She is also involved in the department’s ion chromatography (IC) intelligence service.
"I have developed a genuine passion for analytical chemistry, which is not something I’d studied that much before. Ion chromatography is something that’s not covered at college and actually only a few people in the company are trained to use it. Through the intelligence service in IC, we support other people’s projects and complete IC analysis for them. Being able to use instruments that only a few people have access to is an amazing feeling."
Adapting to a new environment
While the transition from studying at college to working a full-time job has been a challenge for Emma, AstraZeneca provide extensive support to make this jump easier. Emma is one of 30 apprentices at the Macclesfield site, and the company also take on a number of university undergraduates on sandwich courses for their year in industry.
"I am supported daily by a team manager and a supervisor, as well as fellow apprentices. You never find yourself lost, there’s always different people you can talk to. It’s nice to know you’re all in the same boat and you’re all going through the same challenges with adapting to a new environment.
"It was also good to be able to speak to the sandwich students about their experiences of university and see that as apprenticeswe’re able to build up practical skills in the first six months of our apprenticeships that they haven’t necessarily had the opportunity to develop yetfrom two years of university.”
In the six months that Emma has been with AstraZeneca, she has already noticed big developments, both professionally and personally.
"It’s really helped to build my confidence; I have found some strengths that I never knew I had, such as being able to work well with lots of different people and solving complex problems."
Passing on experience
Around her day-to-day work and university studies, Emma has been involved in the department’s Learning and Development team: a group set up to support professional development across the pharmaceutical department.
Emma was heavily involved in organising a full day of activities, talks and workshops for over 200 people, and led the communications for the event.
"I felt a great sense of achievement to be part of the team organising and delivering the eventand it was very rewarding to see the success of the day, she says. "It also allowed networking with people I normally wouldn’t come across on a daily basis and this in itself is something that an apprenticeship allows me to develop."
Outside of work, Emma volunteers for St. Luke’s Hospice and loves interacting with the members she visits each week. She has also recently completed SIP Ambassador training through Cogent Skills, which aims to raise awareness of careers in STEM subjects amongst schoolchildren. She is planning to return to her previous school and college to talk about her experiences as an apprentice.
"I am loving my apprenticeship here at AstraZeneca and I wouldn’t turn back. The support provided by the staff is immense and the responsibility you are given allows you to have pride in every piece of work.
"Working in the pharmaceutical industry - although I don’t get to physically see the patients - I know that the research and development I am conducting has a wider impact on patient health and wellbeing. This in itself is a very rewarding job and I feel like I am already on the right path to fulfil my career aspirations."