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An apprentice’s story: Sachin Radia

Wed, January 04, 2017

I didn’t expect to be an apprentice when I left sixth form college, writes Sachin Radia. I started off at university, doing electrical and electronic engineering. I found that a little bit too academic, not hands-on enough, with not enough context to anything I was learning. I hated it!

I left after a year without a clear plan of what to do next, and ended up working with my Dad in our family business for two years. I enjoyed earning money and ended up in two minds: do I stick doing that or I do apply for an apprenticeship?

I decided that I wanted to see the real world a little bit, to get some experience and some proper qualifications. That’s why I chose an apprenticeship.

It wasn’t an easy choice, but I decided that I wanted to see the real world a little bit, to get some experience and some proper qualifications. That’s why I chose an apprenticeship.

One key reason was to simply move away from home and be more independent. Being an apprentice is great from that point of view; it involves a bit more responsibility than just studying for a degree, because you’re on a job too. You have an employer who’s investing in you.

An apprenticeship is also different to a degree because it’s more contextual to the job you’ll be doing. You’re learning skills that you’ll use directly in your job, rather than abstract maths or formulae that you’re never going to look at again.

Everything you learn is relevant to what you do, day-to-day. I’ve found there are many more advantages too, including the fact I’m getting an experience of the real world that just isn’t there at university… an apprenticeship is far more like real life! And there’s one other key thing of course – you get paid for it.

That’s always a bonus!

Starting college

The first few weeks of the course were a big step for me, because I moved over 200 miles away to be here in Basildon. Getting to know lots of new people, lots of new faces, new systems processes, new employer, in a new city, it was all a big challenge.

It took a few weeks to settle in, but luckily I loved the course. Particularly the practical elements – electronics, electrical wiring, metalwork – it was enjoyable just to get hands on with things and solve practical problems.

Like many apprenticeships, my first year was spent almost entirely on the campus. In fact, I was only “at work” for a few weeks – but still getting paid the whole time! During that year I completed my HNC, which was a huge weight off my shoulders.

It was a great introduction because PROCAT has such good facilities – there’s a full-size train track here, complete with equipment from my employer Thales, so I can apply the things I’m learning when I’m on a job.

It helps that the work is really interesting too. Thales UK covers all kinds of areas from aerospace to defence, but I’m part of the transportation side of the company. I really enjoy that I get to see every part of this business. They make sure you see the big picture and don’t just get stuck in one area. By the end of year two I’d spent time in all sorts of departments – fibre optics, radio, installation and signalling. Even though I’m on an apprenticeship I get my teeth into stuff, I’m not just sitting there.

You’re part of a team as well. I know that I’ve got the full backing of everyone around me, whether that’s Thales employees, other apprentices or my manager, and having that support really works. PROCAT College is exactly the same. If you commit to them they’ll commit to you.

Uni or apprenticeship?

I still meet up with a lot of my university friends, and people I went to school with who went to uni, and they’re always amazed when I mention that I’m actually being paid to study. Friends that have done a degree are a little bit jealous that I’m being paid to earn and learn, and get qualifications and do a hands-on job. They’re coming out of uni with a debt and no guaranteed job at the end of it. I think some of them do regret going down that route, particularly people on an engineering course.

I mean, I’m two-thirds through my course and I’m earning £18,500 per year. There’s no way I could do that at university!

I’d recommend PROCAT too. Not just because of the amazing facilities, but all the support you get.

If you’re reading this, wondering whether to choose an apprenticeship or university, I’d say apprenticeship. You’re earning while you’re learning and you’re learning relevant skills for your job, plus you are very likely to have a job at the end of it.

I’d recommend PROCAT too. Not just because of the amazing facilities, but all the support you get. All the tutors will look out for you, and they want you to do the best you can do.

Not everyone will be able to get an apprenticeship at Thales, but if you do you’ll find that everyone there is really supportive of the apprenticeship scheme as well. I’ve found that any manager you speak to, they’re all 100% committed to it, and just like the tutors at PROCAT they all want best for you. They’ll give you almost anything you need to enable you to complete your course.

What’s next for me?

So what’s next for me? As I say, I’m two years into my three-year course. I’ll leave with an HNC in Engineering and an NVQ Level 3 in Telecoms Engineering. If I wanted, that could be a platform to head into an HND or a degree.

But the great thing about Thales – as with so many apprenticeships – is that you’re pretty much guaranteed a job at the end of it. I know that a lot of apprentices there have gone onto great things, including being on the board, so who knows where I might end up?

Interested in the idea of "earn as you learn"? Then head to the PROCAT website for students for more information. If you're an employer, head to our dedicated website for details on how to do it - and how to take advantage of the upcoming apprenticeship levy to help cover the costs of learning.