Sky’s the limit for first apprentice champion

Jenny Westworth, a former apprentice at BAE Systems
Jenny Westworth, a former apprentice at BAE Systems

When Jenny Westworth knew she did not want to go to university, her career options came from a familiar source.

It was her father, John, who suggested taking an apprenticeship rather than following the careers advice she received at Ripley St Thomas CE High School.

“He was an apprentice at a joinery and he went on to work for BT and saw what they did with their apprenticeship scheme and he encouraged me to go on one,” she says.

“When I went to my school they would not even give me a reference, they thought I should be going to university.”

But that encouragement spread to Jenny’s sister, Hannah, now studying an apprenticeship with her father’s employers, and last week Jenny was named the country’s first national Apprenticeships Champion at a major prize-giving ceremony.

On top of that, the 23-year-old, from Morecambe, has spent five years working for defence giant BAE Systems and is now an engineer on its flagship Eurofighter Typhoon project and an “education ambassador” spreading the word about apprenticeships.

Attitudes to the qualifications have also changed at her old school, with Jenny now being invited in to talk to other students about the ‘other way’ of life into the workplace through apprenticeships.

The attitude has also shifted in the corridors of power with ministers both in the Government and its opponents now falling over themselves to support the on-the-job training delivered by the schemes.

David Ost, regional director of manufacturers’ organisation, the EEF (Engineers Employers’ Foundation), admits it is not just schools and the Government which needs to do more – it is businesses too.

He says: “Companies need to look at the number of people in their workforce who will be retiring soon and do much more in terms of succession planning. The fact we have a problem with skills in this country is a joint failure between the Government and business – and they are the only ones which can address it.”

He notes the huge success stories among major employers, citing BAE Systems and car manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover as North West examples, and believes it is now crucial on small firms to do more.

BAE Systems this week launched a pilot scheme backed by £1.4m of Government cash which will see it support companies in its North West supply chain to train up 50 apprentices.

Jenny believes the candidates progressing through the scheme will not be disappointed.

She said: “If I had gone to university, I would be out the other side with a degree but no experience and now I have five years under my belt at a fantastic company.

“It is not right for everyone but when I started my apprenticeship I felt there was so much more opportunity from an apprenticeship and I have been proved right.”

The BAE initiative follows the UK Commission for Employment and Skills’ announcement of £165m funding under an Employer Ownership Pilot which will create thousands of jobs for young people.

The successful candidates will receive a sought-after three-year apprenticeship in engineering from BAE Systems before joining a company which supplies components or services to its military aircraft business.