How to become an electrical engineer apprentice: Ben's story

Meet Ben: he's 18 and grew up in Cumbria. Find out about his job as a trainee electrical engineer at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Part of our Bitesize world of work series.

"Never, ever give up!"

How would you describe your job?

I am an Electrical Instrumentation Apprentice at GSK Ulverston. My job involves designing, maintaining and improving manufacturing facilities that are used in the pharmaceutical industry.

What does your apprenticeship involve?

In the first year I was in college full time studying for my Level 3 NVQ Extended Diploma in Engineering Maintenance.

In my second year I was on a rotation plan where I worked four days per week on site and had one day off to study for my Level 3 Diploma in Operations and Maintenance Engineering.

I'm in my third year now and am on a full-time rotation plan at GSK, with 12 week-long blocks off to study for a Higher National Certificate in Electronic and Electrical Engineering.

In my fourth year I'll finish the rotation plan and choose a specialism, at the end of which I will take my National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health Course.

By doing an apprenticeship, Ben is able to learn on the job as well as study.

How did you get into your job?

I've always been interested in understanding the mechanical workings of a product. My grandad used to work at GSK Ulverston too, so my interest in the pharmaceutical industry came from discussions with him.

What was your educational career path?

I knew I wanted to be an electrical engineer so I researched which qualifications I needed to get on to a GSK apprenticeship and chose Mathematics, Physics and Resistant Materials at GCSE. I also did a work experience week at GSK Ulverston in Year 10.

During my GCSEs I applied for an apprenticeship at GSK Ulverston. This involved a short online form, an online assessment and then a full application form in which I needed to demonstrate my skills. I then had an assessment day, a formal interview and, finally, was accepted onto the course. I started my apprenticeship after my GCSEs.

Ben's grandad inspired him to work at GSK Ulverston.

What skills do you use in your work?

I use mathematical and statistical skills in my job. I also use the scientific methods I learnt in Physics, particularly when doing calculations or dealing with electrics.

I also use lot of soft skills too, such as leadership, teamwork, communication and problem-solving – I've greatly improved in these areas since starting my apprenticeship. A good work ethic is also really important because you need to complete college assignments as well as attend work every day. Because I work on rotation, I also need adaptability and flexibility as I've worked with lots of different teams and in different departments.

I use technical skills as well, such as how to use hand tools properly and safely.

Top tips

  • Research what options are available to you. You can gain lots of qualifications through apprenticeships, as well as learn on the job and get paid. You need to find out what's best for you

  • It's good to have a back-up option. I also applied for sixth form, as well as for my apprenticeship, just in case I didn't get through

  • If you can, do a work placement. My work experience really helped me to get on to my apprenticeship.

What to expect if you want to be an electrical engineer

When Ben completes his apprenticeship he will be an electrical engineer. Electrical engineers design, build and maintain electrical systems, machinery and equipment.

  • Electrical engineer salary: From £20,000 to £60,000 per year
  • Electrical engineer working hours: 35 to 40 hours per week

What qualifications do you need to be an electrical engineer?

  • Typical entry requirements: You can get into this job through a university course, a college course, an apprenticeship, working towards this role, or applying directly. You can do a degree in Electrical or Electronic Engineering. You may also be able to get into this career with a degree in Electromechanical Engineering, Building Services Engineering, Applied Physics, Aeronautical Engineering, or Mechatronics. You'll usually need two to three A-levels for a degree. You could do a Level 4 and 5 Higher National Diploma in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at college before looking for work. You'll usually need one or two A-levels, a Level 3 diploma or relevant experience for a Level 4 or Level 5 course. You could do an electrical and electronic technical support engineer higher apprenticeship. You'll usually need four or five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and college qualifications like A-levels for a higher or a degree apprenticeship.

This information is a guide (sources: LMI for All, National Careers Service)

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