In the past, in order to secure a well paid mid-level position, the traditional route was going to university, gaining that degree and entering the workforce. That is no longer the case as apprenticeships have opened doors for those who want to gain experience as well as study

Charlotte Hughes an apprentice at GlaxoSmithKline is a recent winner of the Nuclear Decommissioning Site Licence Companies Award for Higher or Degree Apprentice of the Year. Having chosen to not take the well-trodden path that most young people take to break into their chosen career, Charlotte has found great success during her apprenticeship with GlaxoSmithKline. Charlotte shares her views on the importance of apprenticeships, why this is the best path for those wanting to work in the STEM field and where she sees herself in the future. 

Charlotte hughes

How did you come across the apprenticeship with GlaxoSmithKline?

I knew that I was interested in getting into the science field, so I searched for science apprenticeships and came across GSK. I recognised GSK and decided to apply for their apprenticeship programme because they are a well-known and reputable company.

I just knew that I wanted to study biology. The course was only in its second year of running. But now, the apprentices get full job descriptions of each of the roles they can choose, and they rank the ones that are available one to five and then pick their top five roles that they would like to go into. So I think that’s really good, but at the time I was just interested in biology.

What is the importance of being able to do an apprenticeship? Did you do it while you were studying?

With my apprenticeship, GSK pays for my university fees, so I do all my studying here as part of the course which is online, and this is in partnership with the University of Kent. I do all my learning through the apprenticeship as two parts; there is the university side and then the training side which is the work that I do at GSK. I think it’s brilliant because you do get that experience of being in in a work environment, while I’m also learning. Whereas during university, you don’t get that industry experience. Unless you do a placement year, of course, but that’s slightly different.

How do you balance between the days when you have to do your university learning, as opposed to your training on site?

The university study is designated one day a week, so I like to split it up into two half days, as it can be quite hard to take a whole day out and sit there and be on the computer doing university work for a whole day. So, I like to split it up, which allows me to get through my work easier as it is in bite-sized chunks.

Where do you see yourself moving forward with the apprenticeship?

I have completed my apprenticeship and I have just got a few more assignments to hand in for the foundation degree. When this is done, I am going to move on to an 18-month course which is a top-up to a BSc. I also have a full-time job with GSK now.

Would you say it was a great path to full- time employment?

Yes, I think with an apprenticeship, employers see it as a three-year-long job interview. While you’re not guaranteed a place at the end, if you do well, then obviously they’ll try and accommodate you and make a space for you. I think it’s a great opportunity because you gain the experience and build a relationship with the employer. It’s the same for industrial placement students, it’s like a year-long job interview so they can really get their foot in the door. It makes it slightly easier to get a job.

You also get to have a company like GSK on your CV, you’ve worked there for three years, so whether you want to stay or not, it looks great on your CV.

What level of support do you receive while you’re doing your university study and your training as well?

I feel like I have had a lot of support, especially when you consider I had not worked in such an environment before. Over time I have become more independent, but I still have my manager and the team that I work with to help with my actual work as well as my university work. Everyone in my team has already completed their degree, so it’s really good to speak with experts in their certain areas.

So when I’m doing one of the modules, I’ll go and speak to someone I know that’ll help me. Because the course that is provided is all distance learning it can be difficult, but usually we’ve got course leaders and module leaders’ phone numbers and emails to contact when we are having any issues.

They’re quite good with it, because they know how the course works.

What area of this do you research at GlaxoSmithKline?

We work in biotherapeutics, so antibodies and recombinant proteins

Where do you hope to move forward, when you’ve completed your apprenticeship and foundation degree?

I hope to go on to complete my Bachelor of Science, and after that I have considered doing a PhD, but it depends on the availability and what is out there to research. I realise it’s a long time to commit to as well.

I have also started to mentor some of the new apprentices coming in. Right now I have the choice of continuing my studies or look at going into some sort of management position or project management position. It is all reliant on on how I feel about that side of things, so there’s lots of different routes to go down.