Belfast Telegraph

Successful apprentices enjoying new career prospects

By Margaret Canning

The Belfast Telegraph's 50 Jobs in 50 Days campaign enabled ambitious young people to 'earn while they learn' and we caught up with four of them.

The apprentices who won places to 'earn while they learn' at leading companies during a major campaign at the Belfast Telegraph are firing on all cylinders as their careers get under way.

In 2014 the Belfast Telegraph ran a campaign, 50 Jobs in 50 Days, to encourage companies to take on apprentices. The Duke of York travelled to Belfast to launch our campaign, where he praised the contribution of apprenticeships to companies and to the wider economy.

And speaking to our apprentices, it's clear that an apprenticeship and a university degree are not mutually exclusive - in fact, one of the apprentices says he would regard his training as a gateway to a HND or HNC, which could open the door to university.

All four are clearly ambitious people who want the job security that an apprenticeship gives - as no matter what your future is with the firm where you've done your time, you'll always come away with qualifications. And more opportunities are opening up all the time for apprentices - at least two of the firms included today are looking for more.

And Christopher Mooney, an apprentice in intruder alarms from Mallusk, said young people should keep the long game in mind when they leave school, rather than go for the earliest available job.

The 19-year-old said: "Most people come out of school not knowing what they want to do and they just want to make money. But it you stick at something like an apprenticeship in the long instead of going into retail, for example, you'll get your qualifications."

One year on from our campaign, we speak to four of the young apprentices who started their jobs last year to ask them how they are getting on.

Richard Waddell, age 22,: "I started my role as an electronic test apprentice at Schrader in August. It's quite a broad role, with a lot of software involved. None of the other electronic apprenticeships have the same involvement software.

"I applied for two jobs at the time at Schrader. I started on the megtronics apprenticeship but changed over to electronic testing. It involves making changes to the way our machines run in order to improve yield. There's a lot of pressure on sometimes. We have to try and get work done as quickly as we can. I did my GCSEs and A-levels and then did a HND in electronics.

"I worked for an electrical services firm for a year. I then moved to Schrader - it was a good decision and I'm really enjoying it. have been able to travel a lot - I've been to Nashville in work, I've been to Germany and I'm hopefully going to Changzou, China in the summer for the opening of a new factory. I'm the only apprentice going. I'm from Kells, Co Antrim and I know there are a lot of opportunities for apprentices in the area, like Michelin, but I'm glad I came here.

"I definitely prefer working to studying, to be honest - I like getting hands-on experience. I did a HND after leaving Ballymena Academy and I think that's just as good as a degree when it comes to getting a job."

Daryl Letman, a 21-year-old from east Belfast, is in the middle of an engineering apprentice with equipment specialist Ridgeway:

"I had been working with them for a while before joining the apprenticeship scheme. I'm working in pump maintenance and repairs and using the paint pump. It's brilliant work.

"We have a few different departments in Ridgeway, which is on Airport Road - hydraulics, pneumatic fitting, personal protection equipment, hiring out tools, etc. We also hire out aluminium scaffolding and metal mesh for temporaroy fencing. It's locally owned.

"Doing an apprenticeship means that if at any point anything happened to this job, I would be able to leave with some qualifications to help me get a job somewhere else.

"My hopes are to progress within Ridgeway and in the engineering industry. Eventually I'd like to do a HND or a HNC. I went to school at Ashfield Boys School but I don't think their education about apprenticeships equipped me with the right qualifications. But I wouldn't see a reason why not to do an apprenticeship. But overall, it's more about thinking about the long-term view of getting qualifications rahter than the short-term view.

"Without a long-term view, you won't have the qualifications to get you a bigger wage when you come out of it. At the time, it wasn't in my mind to go to university. But I would like to think I could go university one day with a HND or a HNC. I definitely think the Belfast Telegraph did great work in publicising apprenticeships because a lot of employers don't even know what they can do and how apprentices can work for them. You've definitely opened up doors for apprentices."

BT apprentice Connor O'Hara, a 25-year-old from Milford in Co Armagh, said: "I saw an opportunity to work with BT through a recruitment agency Hays so I took that up to come on and help install fibre broadband. And that gave me an insight into BT and led me to apply for the apprenticeship. Previously I had just had three month rolling contracts but with an apprenticeship there was stability, secruity and support. You go through training and get guidance in building your career.

"I went to the integrated college in Dungannon and I did GCSEs and A-levels. When I did my A-levels I did see myself working and earning rather than having to go to university, where you're not really in a secure career or with a company and building towards something, and at the end of it having to look for a job. And I think that's where an apprenticeship benefits you.

"My advice to any young person thinking about it is to go down the apprenticeship route if they are at all that way inclined.

"I'm training to be a customer service engineer - so that includes maintenance, fixing customers' lines, and doing preventative maintenance and installing new lines. My future plans are just to gain my apprenticeship and complete it in March next year - that'll be me finishing the level 3 NVQ in telecommunications. I want to work hard and get any other opportunities that might come up in BT. I'm benefiting from training in house, coaching and mentoring.

"I got married in August to my wife, Jane, and only for the apprenticeship, which has given me security and stability, we wouldn't have been able to get our mortgage."

BT is currently recruiting for apprentices with an anticipated start date of August 2015, applications are now open and will close on Friday May 1 2015.

To apply go to:

Christopher Mooney, who is 19, is one year into an intruder alarm apprenticeship at Diamond Systems, Belfast:

"It's a very technical thing and it would be a bit confusing without doing a course. I'm also studying at tech but there's only so much you can learn at the tech and on paper. When I'm in work I get more hands-on skills and I get to interact with customers.

"When I started I was shy and didn't like talking to big groups but now that I've started, I have gotten used to it. As soon as I left school I was looking for a trade, which I saw as a job for life. I thought that when I got my years over me, I would always have it to my name. When I'm fully qualified I'll be able to take on alarms anywhere.

"Diamond suits me because I'm always out and about. I couldn't see myself sitting indoors on computers all day. With the company I get to see some good places. What I want for the future is more pay and more experience. I want to learn more about alarms - maybe fire alarms and CCTV, as well as intruder alarms. I never really thought about going to university because it's never really interested me. But I think the Belfast Telegraph did a good thing last year in raising awareness of apprenticeships."

Diamond is currently recruiting two more apprentices: see for more details.

Belfast Telegraph