HomeBreaking NewsHow one apprentice became an engineer – and how you could too

How one apprentice became an engineer – and how you could too


ELEVEN years ago, Adam Hearn had no intention of continuing with education.

He just wanted a stable job, so he took a trainee role at Braintree Precision Components (BPC), part of the Hepco Group, which is a manufacturer of high-accuracy components for the automation and manufacturing sector.

Winning feeling: Adam Curtis (left) celebrates with Adam Hearn at the National Apprenticeship Awards.

However, BPC had other ideas. The company soon saw Hearn’s potential and started him on an apprenticeship in Computerized Numerical Control (CNC) turning – skilled industrial cutting using a computer-controlled lathe.

As Hearn discovered, apprenticeships come at various levels, each equivalent to stages of a formal education, and covering a wide range of in-demand skills.

What they all have in common is that they involve doing real jobs that allow people to learn while they earn.

Working four days a week at BPC and studying one day a week at the Colchester Institute, Hearn rapidly began to develop new skills and, with the help of his managers, he progressed further with an apprenticeship in CNC precision grinding.

Hearn is now due to finish a degree apprenticeship in the same subject later this year.

This is quite an achievement for Hearn, given that he has mild dyslexia – something he didn’t know until his employers helped diagnose it, and which helps explain why he had struggled at school.

BPC is supporting him to overcome the challenges this presents, including investing in the same software the college uses to help him, so that he can use it in both settings.

“When I started, I just thought it would be a foot through the door into an industry I didn’t really know,” says Hearn. “Moving departments and progressing through apprenticeships wasn’t something I’d thought of at the time, but they have been real stepping stones in my career. I really fell on my feet.”

His manager, Adam Curtis, recalls it slightly differently. “Adam is being a bit hard on himself,” says the production engineering manager. “He got into that position through hard work, dedication and a willingness to learn and ask questions.

“He was showing a natural talent for hands-on engineering, and we thought he could progress even further in his career by taking an apprenticeship. We had a business need in grinding, and he was the right man for the job.”

Apprenticeships are just one way for people to gain the skills that employers want, whatever their stage in life.

The Government is also helping adults gain skills for life through courses like Skills Bootcamps – free courses that give people the opportunity to build up sector-specific skills and a fast-track to an interview with a local employer; Free Courses for Jobs, which are open to adults without A Levels or the equivalent (and, from April, to anyone who is unemployed or earns less than the yearly national living wage of £18,525, even if they have an A Level equivalent qualification or higher); and courses in essential skills in maths, English and digital.

For employers, apprenticeships are an effective way of training people in the skills that their business needs, which are often in short supply locally. For example, BPC is one of very few precision engineering companies in the Braintree area, meaning there isn’t a deep pre-existing talent pool to draw on.

At the same time, BPC has an ageing workforce, which means it has to plan carefully to replace the skills it is losing through retirement. “We look for transferable skills, people with the right mentality. We can teach the other things because we have those skills on site,” Curtis says.

And, he says, there is a wide range of opportunities. When people think about apprenticeships they generally think of engineering and physical jobs. However, the Hepco Group has apprentices across the business, including in sales and marketing functions.

Today, there is an apprenticeship for most positions, offering a genuine alternative to university.

For Hearn, going down the apprenticeship route has been nothing short of life-changing. “I never in a million years thought I’d be doing a degree. You learn so much, not just on the career side but also personally. It’s shown me how to communicate with different people in different places, and achieve so much more than I thought I could. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Hearn has recently won a National Apprenticeship Award and is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) ambassador, visiting local schools and colleges to tell young people what careers in industry are like. He also mentors junior apprentices within the Hepco group, where he says he’s excited for his career opportunities now that his degree apprenticeship is coming to a close.

“I always say to the apprentices I mentor that if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. If you stick with it, it will open so many doors for you.”

The National Careers Service can help you find and choose the right apprenticeship, as well as help you with your application.

If you’re not sure which opportunity might be right for you, the National Careers Service provides free, personalised advice and guidance on learning, training and work to anyone in England.

Its qualified advisers can help you think about your needs, make informed decisions about your future, and take the next step towards achieving your goals.

For more information on these and other courses available, visit gov.uk/skillsforlife.

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