Taking on a residential apprenticeship

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Name – James Dowson

Age - 21

Company – Ibstock

From – Middlesbrough


After leaving school, I attended sixth form college, studying A-levels in biology, chemistry and mathematics with aim of becoming a chemical engineer. I then attended Teesside University to study a BENG in chemical engineering. Despite achieving respectable results in my first year, I decided that the learning style wasn’t for me. There was very little practical work and most of my week was spent in a classroom for eight hours a day and reading through PowerPoint presentations. I therefore made the difficult decisions to leave university and pursue a career which provided workplace learning in addition to academic study. I began applying for apprenticeships and had several interviews, before choosing Ibstock Brick. I was impressed with how significantly Ibstock invest in their apprentices, particularly through the opportunity to study at EEF and stay in Birmingham.

Studying at the EEF Technology Training Centre Monday to Friday for my first year meant that I had to stay in Birmingham as a residential student as I didn’t live locally. This involved travelling down from Middlesbrough on a Sunday night and returning home Friday afternoon. All of EEF’s residential students stayed in a hotel in Great Barr. This was a fantastic opportunity and experience. This gave me a chance to get to know other apprentices from a wide range of companies and backgrounds, making the transition of being away from home far easier. It also gave me a chance to network with apprentices from my own company, and discuss our experiences at work so far, finding out how our factories differed etc. Getting to know the other apprentices also meant that we had a strong support network. We were all in the same position, meaning we could discuss our problems with each other.

Below: Apprentices Lewis and James at the opening of the Technology Hub.


The hotel was great for passing time. Entrance into the gym and the pool was included in our stay and the hotel provided a buffet in the morning and the evening. The hotel is situated between Walsall and Birmingham, meaning travel to the centre of Birmingham is a simple 20-minute bus journey. Travelling into Birmingham to experience the city was something I particularly enjoyed. This meant that there was always something to do in the evening. All rooms were fitted with a desk, allowing apprentices to carrying out any work required from college.

Studying at the EEF Technology Training Centre was a fantastic experience. We were able to study a variety of practical units, which were hand-picked by our company to suit our training needs. One day per week was spent in a classroom studying our BTEC qualification, and the rest of the week was spent in the work shop. Working on different sections in the workshop such as maintenance, electrical installation, pneumatics, bench fitting and mechanical assembly gave me a holistic view of how an engineering/manufacturing environment works.

I am currently in the second year of my apprenticeship meaning I attend the EEF Hub on a block release basis studying my BTEC Level 3 qualification, whilst the rest of my time is spent at my place of work completing my NVQ Level 3.

Being an engineering apprentice I have had many opportunities which I would never have had at university. This included travelling to Italy for a ceramic clay tech tour to visit other ceramic production plants and ceramic machinery production plants. I have also had the opportunity to present at the Ibstock Engineering Conference and at the opening of the EEF Hub.

An apprenticeship was certainly the right choice to start my career on the right path.
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