Some of Thales UK’s youngest rail signallers share their thoughts about their experience as apprentices in the company.
James King, 17, and Tommy Ward, 21, are two of 16 apprentices working for Thales UK’s transportation systems business while also attending London’s City of Westminster College. Apprentices divide their time between on-the-job training and classroom-based learning, gaining a range of qualifications and experience.
Both youngsters focused on the difference in learning environments between learning purely in academia and apprenticeships. “There are lots of people who learn much better through hands-on experience rather than in an academic environment,” says Ward.
Pointing out the pitfalls of spending significant sums of money in higher education, Kings says: “This is the best route I could ever get, and it is far better than spending £9,000 a year on a university course.”
The two apprentices, specialising in rail signalling, were thankful for the opportunity and keen to move up the company ladder after finishing their apprenticeships. “This is a big opportunity in a major global company in the area of railway engineering. There are big rail signalling projects going on in Portugal and Canada, for example,” says King.
Talking about previous attempts to secure an apprenticeship, Ward says: “I tried to get on an apprenticeship four years ago with another company, but was unsuccessful, so this time I plan to stay within the company. Beyond transportation there are a wide range of opportunities in other sectors that Thales plays a key role in, such as security and defence.”
Thales UK welcomed the 16 new apprentices into the business in September 2010 on a scheme that enables them to ‘earn while they learn’, building skills and experience while at the same time earning a competitive annual starting salary. The new three year work-based apprentice scheme was created to meet future needs and to grow the Thales technical skills base.
Victor Chavez, chief executive of Thales UK, stresses the importance of investing in Britain’s future engineers and hopes Thales’ example will spur on other companies to do likewise.
He says: “Apprentices are a vital part of the company’s strategic planning in the future. We need young people who can, in a structured learning environment, develop within the company. Our apprentices continue to demonstrate that it is the way in which they train that enables them to challenge conventional wisdom, and add value to all aspects of our business, inside and outside our engineering functions.”