Applying the theory to everything isn’t as easy as it seems

Laura Mair, Engineering Graduate Apprentice on her experience

Applying both academic and practical knowledge in a professional environment can be a tricky balance to strike.


This is where work-based learning comes in. It’s as it sounds, and provides the best of both worlds by allowing apprentices to earn while they learn.

After studying mechanical engineering at college for two and a half years in Elgin, Laura Mair realised 9-5 in a classroom wasn’t for her. After dropping out of her HND she continued working at Tesco until an opportunity for an apprenticeship at AJ Engineering became available , where she rapidly adapted to a more hands-on approach to learning.

Laura was approached by the Centre for Work-based Learning to join its advisory board and provide members with first-hand feedback about the course from an apprentice’s perspective. You can read more about her journey here. 

Studying at college full-time really wasn’t for me, but up here there aren’t as many opportunities for apprentices, and I thought I needed a University degree to be accepted into a professional mechanical engineering role. I chanced my luck, and applied to AJ Engineering anyway and got in. The rest is history, as they say!

I’ve just completed year one of a four-year apprenticeship programme, with a variety of placements in different sectors of the company. I started in the projects office and would like to go back as an assistant project manager in a few months. I loved learning about the day-to-day handling of a project and effectively keeping track of budgets. Other placements have been more practical ranging from design to being in the workshop for welding and fabricating.   

I hadn’t developed any of these practical skills at college and the first day I was in the workshop at AJ Engineering I didn’t feel confident. But being thrown in at the deep end has its advantages, within a couple of hours welding and fabricating had become second nature.

Before I started my apprenticeship, I had suffered from social anxiety and was self-conscious about simple tasks such as speaking on the phone. Since starting work, I’ve become a lot more confident through practice because it’s such a huge part of my role.

I believe developing academic skills and being exposed to a practical environment to apply them in is the most effective way of learning, with benefits for both the employer and employee. By making an investment in an apprentice and training them to individual company standards, the employee is usually more loyal. I’m certainly planning to continue at AJ Engineering after my four-year apprenticeship. 

I wasn’t familiar with the Centre for Work-based Learning until they approached me directly about sitting on their advisory board. The support network they provide is incredible and they play a crucial role in influencing more employers to hire apprentices. I’m glad I accepted my position because it’s fantastic to be able to provide first-hand experience of an apprenticeship to a board which values my opinion.

More recently, I suggested scoping out more extensive relationship building with universities and colleges which have international links for an ‘apprentice exchange’ programme. The members welcomed the idea and appreciated my suggestion – you don’t get that on a lot of boards, especially as a young person in a largely male dominated industry.

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