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George Miller

Current student

George Miller works at QinetiQ and is in the final year of his Embedded Electronic Systems Design and Development Engineer (Degree) Apprenticeship, attending Solent University twice a week. He mostly works in avionics, supporting various teams that perform independent technical evaluations on big and small aircraft, both rotary and fixed-wing. He shares his degree apprenticeship experience with us.

What were you doing before your apprenticeship and why did you think this would work for you?

As soon as I discovered the existence of degree apprenticeships, I was intrigued. In my final year of college, while pursuing a Level 3 BTEC Extended Diploma in Engineering, I began exploring options for my next steps. Unlike my peers who were mostly eyeing jobs or HNC courses, I found myself drawn towards the prospect of university. The degree apprenticeship emerged as an ideal blend of academic learning and industry experience.

Given my non-traditional educational background, I anticipated some scepticism from employers and universities regarding my academic capabilities. BTEC and other vocationally based Level 3 courses are often perceived as being less academically rigorous compared to A-levels. While some employers were initially unfamiliar with the BTEC qualification, many recognised its value, especially since BTEC qualifications come with UCAS points and, depending on the modules studied (such as advanced calculus), are academically substantial.

Initially, I harboured doubts about my ability to succeed in this new environment. However, these concerns quickly dissipated once I began engaging with the assessments, particularly report writing. I found that my BTEC background, which included extensive technical report writing and math exams, gave me an edge in the engineering degree. From my perspective and experience, the Level 3 BTEC is exceptionally well-suited to preparing students for the rigours of an engineering degree. It offers extensive practice in technical writing, adherence to deadlines, and a blend of practical and theoretical group work. This, I believe, equips BTEC students with a distinct advantage in pursuing engineering at a higher education level.

Tell us about the benefits of studying your apprenticeship

There are loads, but the points that stick out for me include personal and professional development.

I’ve been getting actual industry experience by building my technical skills, understanding workplace dynamics, and gaining insights that are not typically available in a classroom setting. I’ve benefited from free professional membership, providing access to a wealth of resources such as industry publications, specialised training, and networking events. Through the apprenticeship, I have had opportunities to expand my professional networks through access to conferences and events at a reduced cost or even for free, thanks to student discounts. These gatherings have been fantastic opportunities to connect with an incredibly diverse range of professionals.

I’ve also gained an awareness and knowledge of other areas, benefited from the early careers community, and had tailored career progression.

In terms of personal development, I’ve built my confidence, learnt from mistakes, and understand the human aspect of working with others. I’m not just gaining experience, but also moving forward in a way that aligns with my career aspirations and industry needs.

What’s been the highlight of your apprenticeship so far?

One of the highlights of uni so far was a group project about designing and building a line-following robot which culminated in a friendly competition against other groups. Our team's robot excelled in the obstacle avoidance category, earning us one of the coveted prizes - a box of Jaffa Cakes. In a moment of celebration, I captured a photo of our robot, which I managed to convince my group to call JPEG – an acronym for 'Jaffa Procuring Earthbound Gadget'. Embracing the spirit of the project, I sent an image of our Jaffa-adorned JPEG to McVitie's. To our delight, they responded with a warm email and generously awarded us £50 worth of Jaffa Cake vouchers!

You’ve been invited to the Houses of Parliament to represent your company and the apprenticeship scheme during National Apprenticeship Week, can you tell us what you’ll be doing there?

During National Apprenticeship Week, the event at the Houses of Parliament is likely to feature a mix of government officials, including MPs and the minister responsible for apprenticeships, along with industry and education leaders. There will be discussions on apprenticeship policies, various presentations, and possibly awards recognising outstanding programmes. The aim is to celebrate the impact of apprenticeships on individuals and the economy, while also discussing future strategies for their development. 

What would you say to someone considering a degree apprenticeship?

Based on my experience, I would suggest anyone genuinely thinking of an apprenticeship to: Apply. Apply. Apply! Even if you're on the fence about a programme, go for it. Every application is a step towards finding your career and figuring out what you want to do with your work life. Using your favourite search engine, it is easy to find a plethora of online tools available to help with CV writing and those frustrating application questions they all ask. But there are few apprenticeship programmes around, so if you are lucky enough to land an interview, my key advice would be to be unforgettable in interviews. Bring something unique, such as a project or a hobby that showcases your skills. For me, it was an Arduino project that sparked conversation (even over Teams). Have a personality - it doesn’t have to be a corporate one.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I think companies often view apprentices as long-term investments and are more inclined to invest resources in their development and opportunities. This investment creates a reciprocal relationship, where apprentices are seen as growing with the company, fostering a sense of loyalty and commitment that can be highly valued by employers. And finally, from a financial perspective, apprentices are usually cheaper for businesses and the one reason we can all agree on - no student debt!