How to become a degree apprentice process engineer: Alex's story

Meet Alex. He's 24 and from Bolton, near Manchester. Find out about his job as a trainee supervisor in process engineering for Hanson UK, a building materials company. Part of our Bitesize world of work series.

"I said I was going to get that job and I did!"

How would you describe your job?

My job is to assist the senior managers at the cement works. At a cement works we take various types of rock from the ground and process them together to create cement.

I do a lot of sample collecting because you have to test the quality of the rock all the way through the process. I am responsible for the analysis of the various products created. I also have to look at data, write reports, attend meetings and help to solve problems.

Because I'm on an apprenticeship, I also get a day off work each week to study at university.

In a quarry, you take rock out of the floor and make it into something useful.

What are the most important skills that you use in your job?

Communication skills are really important in my job. I have to be able to communicate face-to-face and in writing with lots of different people.

Prioritisation and time management are also very important skills, because of the various tasks and responsibilities handed down from senior management.

I also use lots of maths skills.

What was your journey to getting your job?

For my GCSE options, I chose Electronics, Further Maths, Spanish and ICT. I then went to sixth form college where I did A-levels in Chemistry, Maths and ICT.

I studied Materials Engineering at university but I didn't enjoy the style of learning there, so I dropped out after two years.

I saw this job advertised on the government’s apprenticeships website. It sounded ideal so I applied. I have gained lots of additional qualifications on my apprenticeship so far, which will count towards a foundation degree.

Parts of Alex's job involves taking samples of rocks.

What advice would you give to younger students interested in engineering?

This industry is always looking for people. If you want a job where you are not sitting behind a desk all the time, this is a good industry to go into. It's also fantastic if you like wearing orange!

Top tips

  • There is more than one route you can take to get into a job. University wasn't right for me, but an apprenticeship was

  • It's really important to be flexible at work. I’ve adapted to a variety of different managers over the last three years

  • Be confident in yourself. When I saw this job advertised I knew I wanted it. I said I was going to get it and I did!

Alex’s apprenticeship is providing him with experience to be a process engineer. Process engineers develop ways to turn raw materials into everyday products and help to oversee the day-to-day operation of the processing plant.

What to expect if you want to be a process engineer

Process engineer salary: £35,000 to £44,000 per year

Process engineer working hours: 39 to 41 per week

What qualifications do you need to be a process engineer?

Typical entry requirements: You may be able to do a science industry process engineer degree apprenticeship. You'll usually need four or five GCSEs (or equivalent) at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and college qualifications like A-levels (or equivalent) for a higher or a degree apprenticeship. Alex needed two A-levels (or equivalent) including one STEM subject for his apprenticeship. You could do a degree or postgraduate qualification in a subject such as Chemical Engineering, Process Engineering or Biochemical Engineering. You may be able to do a postgraduate conversion course if you have a degree in a related area like Engineering, Chemistry or Polymer Science. You could also start as a process engineering technician and do training on the job to qualify as an engineer. With experience, a process engineer could progress to senior process or design engineer or research and development manager, or go on to be a plant manager, overall operations manager or move into consultancy work.

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

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