You no longer have to choose between a degree or an apprenticeship. A growing number of companies are offering degree-level apprenticeships, so you can study for a degree debt-free, while gaining hands-on commercial experience.
So, what does it take to be a degree apprentice? Craig Wakefield from Renishaw shares his experience of being a software engineering apprentice.
Craig Wakefield from Renishaw
“I studied computing, performing arts and geography at A Level, but my focus was on computing. I applied to universities via UCAS and was offered a place at both Bournemouth and Nottingham. My siblings had already been to university and I was keen to work towards a degree.
During that time, my computing teacher suggested I looked into apprenticeships and when I did my research, it was an absolute no-brainer. The software apprenticeship programme meant I could do a degree while getting paid, meaning I’d have no student debt. I’m also more of a hands-on learner, so the practical style suited me, especially as it meant I’d have four years of experience, which other graduates would not.
After sixth form, I went to work for Renishaw as a software apprentice. The four-year programme involved one day of lectures a week at university and four days gaining commercial experience in the company.
My degree covered topics like embedded software, programming and artificial intelligence, which complemented my day-to-day life at work. I was able to apply my programming skills almost as soon as I’d learnt them. In my last two years I did a dissertation on how mobile apps are now leading the way in software development, which was extremely challenging alongside working full time, but incredibly worthwhile.
I’m currently working in a small team on my favourite project so far, which involves writing bespoke software for our customers so that they can validate that their machined parts are within tolerance. My main focus is on developing toolkits for high-precision applications, like blade tip refurbishment. It’s rewarding to see how the software I am developing is helping to solve real world problems and benefitting our customers.
I’d definitely recommend others take the route that I did — get out there, attend shows in your local area and speak to companies that offer apprenticeships. You’ll gain valuable experience to complement your qualifications and have a job at the end of it ― I wouldn’t change a thing.”