We hear from Gemma who had no knowledge of what an apprenticeship involved and how it could benefit her. Now she’s an apprentice network consulting engineer.
Gemma Dalziel is an Apprentice Network Consulting Engineer at Cisco Systems where she currently works in a testing role within the Solutions Validation team. She is involved in projects with financial customers, building replica networks, writing and running test cases and analysing the results. Keen to share her experiences with others, she is involved in various STEM outreach activities. Gemma has contributed to Cisco’s industry days and work experience weeks for students, and has spoken about technology careers at local schools and colleges.
Last year, I was honoured to receive the Mary George Memorial Prize for Apprentices at the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards.”
As someone who has achieved success in a STEM career from nothing, I feel it is my duty to get the word out on the amazing STEM apprenticeship opportunities available to young people.
From my own experience, this is a matter not only of educating young people but also their parents, who are likely to want their children to pursue a traditional academic route into the world of work. This stems from a lack of understanding about how much value an apprenticeship can actually bring.
So how do we go about making sure that message is out there, that apprenticeships as a route into a profession is just as valid as any other?
Being aware of the options
If you’re anything like my friends and me, apprenticeships weren’t on our radar at school. I had no knowledge of what an apprenticeship involved and how they could benefit me. My school had always supported students to pursue the university path, so I did not have enough information to explore other options. The majority of us went to university and the rest took up full-time employment.
I decided to go to university and study Statistics. Unfortunately, I had to withdraw in my second year due to my health. When I was ready to start looking for new opportunities I found it was really difficult to get a skilled job without the necessary qualifications. I began looking at apprenticeships that could provide me with both work experience and training for the skills I needed.
Taking matters into my own hands
During my first job, I enrolled on an apprenticeship in hospitality. I found the work/study balance really suited me and my learning style. I decided I would like to work in the IT industry, so I began to look online at the different types of apprenticeships available to me – there was a surprising amount of variety.
I submitted my CV to an apprenticeship provider who reached out to me with various opportunities. After hearing about a few different positions, I decided to wait until the right position became available. A month or so later I was contacted about a really exciting opportunity at leading IT company Cisco and decided this was the position for me.
Classroom theory vs on-the-job experience
I won’t lie, initially not getting a degree was a big concern for me as it is something I’ve always aspired to. However, when I joined Cisco I realised that the experience and qualifications that the apprenticeship provide me with are just as valuable to an employer. Cisco, among many other companies, now offers a degree apprenticeship scheme which I will be completing alongside working in my role.
One of the biggest advantages of my apprenticeship is the extent to which I have been able to shape my career. I have worked in many different roles as an apprentice which has allowed me to really find where my passion is. I’ve since developed myself as a skilled and qualified engineer which has opened up many job opportunities.
Persuading the parents
At first, my parents did not see an apprenticeship to be as valuable as going to university and they were not aware of the different types of apprenticeships on offer. After hearing about the experiences, qualifications and job opportunities I have available to me during and after the scheme, they have definitely changed their mind and are very supportive of the path I chose to take.
There is a job to be done in educating parents about the value of apprenticeships, especially in a sector as important as engineering, where the skills gap is widening.
This has to start at school, where career services need to be more enthusiastic and knowledgeable about apprenticeships. A sea change is needed for young people and their parents to understand that apprenticeships are not a “second best” option and only for those who don’t get the academic qualifications they need for uni. Instead they should be a proactive choice, a viable alternative to higher education that will earn you just as much respect and provide just as many great career prospects. Our friends in Europe get it … why can’t we?
For me, getting into a STEM role via an apprenticeship means I am at the forefront of progress; I’m able to create, innovate, design and do amazing things that will actually shape the future of the society I live in. Who could disagree with that as a career choice?
The IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards are part of The IET’s awards programme, which each year provides over £1million in awards, prizes and scholarships to celebrate excellence and research in the sector and encourage the next generation of engineers and technicians.
The 2017 IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards and IET Apprentice of the Year Awards are open for entries now. See The IET Young Woman of the Year Awards and IET Apprentice of the Year award for more information.
The IET Engineering Horizons Bursary scheme is designed to support talented individuals facing personal obstacles or financial hardship to complete their training as an apprentice with a package of financial support and membership of the IET.
To find out more information about the Horizons Bursary scheme or to make an application, visit the IET Horizons Bursary website