Apprenticeship vs. Degree

Hi all,

I know this isn't really the place for careers advice but here goes, I'm currently in the first year of an electronic engineering degree, although it is "generic" engineering for the first two years and specialised electronics in year 3, which seems really wasteful to me at the moment as I believe I have a clear interest in electronics. I've been considering alternative options, does anyone have experience of a Higher Apprenticeship+HND vs. Bachelors Degree in electronics, have you ever felt held back because you did not have a degree? I'd be interested to hear people's experiences from both sides?



  • As someone who bitterly regrets not utilizing his abilities to achieve a suitable engineering degree ( detested school so could not wait to leave education- going to 14 different ones didnt help !! ) I would say stick to your current degree course as generic engineering skills will be a huge asset to have in an electronics based career - you will appreciate why very soon !!
  • It absolutely should be the place for career advice! What it's not the place for is life stories... so I shall attempt to keep it brief. (EDIT - Looks as though I failed, please skip to the end if you want to know thoughts on the actual question)

    Even at Primary School, I wanted to be a car designer.. At first I thought this would be the type that wears a roll neck jumper and describes how something mundane inspired them to create the latest Focus or Civic. But, when I was in year 9 (2002) the most amazing opportunity opened up before me. I was given the opportunity to help Tendring Technology College build their first F24 Car for a 6 hour endurance race at Ford Dunton.
    I was instantly hooked and from there I felt I could contribute far more to a vehicle than just styling.

    By 2006, Laura, yes, Greenpower Laura and I started our own private team. At this point I was just finishing 6th Form and receiving some very poor results. I achieved a D in Product Design and an X in AVCE ICT.

    2007 We started competing in F35, which was full of disappointment, starting with a steering component failure in the pitlane at our first event, failing to finish 3rd in a 3 car race at Rockingham and then capped off at the end of the season by being wiped out from second place at our first final. The fact that we had tried to build a car though was enough for me to gain a place on the apprenticeship program at ASGB Coachbuilders, in Essex. There I was taught to weld both MIG and TIG and learned basic sheet metalwork, which was all a fantastic experience, but I wanted more and didn't feel there was a particularly attractive route of progression.

    In 2008 at our second race of the season we collected our first silverware in the inaugural round of the F24+ Championship. With a vastly improved second car we slowly started to gain speed and a little more silverware, but my career was about to take an unexpected turn.

    Spring 2008 I received an email from Greenpower saying that they were looking for someone to assist with the kit car element of the business and they wondered if I may interested, so between August 2008 and March 2011 I worked at Greenpower in Fontwell, which was a big step as I moved 2 hours away from home, but it was such a rewarding experience that I never looked back.

    With the company being so small relative to the impact it has, I learned an awful lot about many of the varied elements that lead to business becoming successful, one of the key lessons I learned, that I feel is vital for a successful career was, in short, how to deal with people, whether they are customers, sponsors or volunteers, it was all invaluable experience.

    However, my passion was still very much rooted in engineering and so I would still design and build F24+ cars with Laura, who would turn up to Greenpower events and run the car with very little input from anyone else.

    In 2010 we formed a partnership with Passivent who were big supporters of Greenpower, sponsoring events, manufacturing kits and sponsoring a school team. We found a mutually beneficial partnership where together we would design and build two identical cars, one for Horsfall Racing and one for St. Pauls Catholic College. In early 2011 an opportunity opened up at their factory in Nottingham, they were looking for a young designer to join their design team. So, I moved for a second time, this time gaining vital design experience. Here I was able to draw on my experience of having worked on a factory floor to be able to work effectively, more so than some of the more established employees, with the guys that would be manufacturing the ventilation systems I had a part in designing.

    2011 was a challenging year with a new car, but ultimately we achieved what we had set out to do in 2002, we won the F24+ National Final! For me, this was vindication, I wasn't just playing with cars, I could actually design and build fast, efficient cars! This validation was just what I needed to push myself further and so in September 2012 I started a new job in Portsmouth at Formaplex. This gave me an insight in to the tight turn around, high pressure environment of high performance engineering.

    At Formaplex I learned a huge amount about project management and design for manufacture. Mid way through my second month Laura and I clinched the 2012 F24+ Championship, funnily enough in an eerily similar way to Nico Rosberg, last week. We finished second at the final race to (who would become) a 3 time Champion, David Cullimore. We also instantly announced our retirement, we just didn't stick to it! I think Nico might...

    A further four years down the line and at 28 years old, I now work in Formula 1 as a designer, could I have been at this point sooner? Absolutely, would I have been ready? I'm not so sure. Having a degree would have made my career an awful lot easier, but I don't believe I would necessarily have been able to achieve a degree level qualification. I never disliked the education system, I just felt that it was aimed at the average person, and I'm not sure I am that type of person (perhaps no one is "average", but we won't get in tog that).


    The real key, and this has always been highlighted to me at every interview I have had, is my demonstrable natural interest in the subject of engineering. So make sure you highlight projects like Greenpower, these will set you apart from everyone else that's completed the degree you're working towards.

    I would say that the fact you've made it as far as University in the first place suggests that you're more than capable of what lies ahead of you, but I can see how you may struggle to stay interested over the first two years. Try and see if you can find relevance in what your doing, maybe take on a few small personal projects, that make use of the general engineering you're learning. I always struggled with how abstract education seemed, but have subsequently taught myself a lot of what was on offer at secondary school.

    SO! If I were you, in your position, I would stick with it, the engineering basics are so important if you want to go on to have a real, quantifiable, involvement in projects that interest you, and I look forward to hearing all about how you progress!

    The really important thing is that whatever you do you keep pushing forward, for that very reason I'm also part of Solar Team Great Britain, we're designing and building a vehicle to drive from Darwin to Adelaide next October.
  • edited December 2016
    Hi Dan, I would stick with the degree if I were you. An engineering degree can lead to a very diverse range of career options.
    I studied Mech Eng at Brunel, but within that course was a variety of engineering aspects which have prepared me for many unforseen outcomes.
    My first job out of uni was in diesel engine calibration, which required me to use quite a small part of my total degree content, as it was focused on combustion chemistry and emissions, which to be honest wasn't what I had in mind when I began my degree, but the depth of the course had prepared me to think and adapt to a range of different jobs and roles. SInce then I have stepped into teaching and this wonderful project, so you never know where life will take you. There is also in my view a lot to be said for living the university experience which tends to give valuable life lessons along the way.
    Cheers, Ben
  • edited December 2016
    I think I echo what Luke says. Now you're at uni you should really try and stick with it. But at the end of the day you'll get a bit of paper that will open doors into your chosen career path. If the degree you're on isn't keeping you interested then do as Luke says, carry on with Greenpower, join a Formula Student team, or even both like me ;) That said, if you're really unhappy with the degree you're doing it is possible to switch courses, be that to something different at the same uni or even another one.

    What university are you at by the way?

    Ben, no idea you went to Brunel. Small world...
  • edited December 2016
    I would also say it is probably best to stick with it, but obviously have a look around at options.
    From what I know of you, you obviously have a good deal of mainly self taught electronics knowledge and experience. I suspect that you may feel that you are not getting much from the course as yet (especially with those fees to pay). But it is early days and the first part of the course is likely to be very basic and generic bringing people with different knowledge up to speed (probably maths mainly!).
    I did an Electrical and Electronics degree (many years back) and I also went in with an amount of self taught practical electronics. That side of the course was easy for me but there is a whole lot more to it. There is a lot of commonality between engineering disciplines, even more so these days. All of the maths, problem solving, programming, management, organisation, materials, manufacturing methods, testing, business skills etc etc. have a good degree in common. It is also very useful as an electronics engineer, to know mechanics, software, materials etc. as these days a lot of what engineers will design and create will use a mixture of these disciplines working tightly together.
    Also, as the others say, remember the course is just part of it. You are also there to investigate/play with ideas and do your own work. There is no reason you cannot be working on electronics orientated stuff during those first two years getting involved with the staff in that area, asking questions and using the facilities, But make sure you leave time to have fun outside of electronics as well :)
  • Interesting stuff guys!
    So, I'm nearing the end of year 11 and am considering my options.
    Eventually I'd like to get involved in Automotive Design like Luke, and this would probably be based around transmissions systems or electronics due to my experiences with Greenpower.
    I'm currently considering doing an apprenticeship at a local engineering company, MOOG, who make products from DRS servos to rocket engines with many in between.
    Would experience with this company be more attractive to an employer than going down the more academic route of VIth form then degree?
  • I'll try and keep this shorter than Luke did - contradictions ahead!

    I did a 4 mechanical engineering degree, and I've spent the last 4.5 years working in electrical, software and systems engineering, which I've enjoyed (and still enjoy) immensely. I've learnt a huge amount and I now wouldn't even go back to the discipline that I left 6th form certain that I wanted to work in. Since I was a kid I wanted to work in Auto design, but I've now learnt skills that I can apply across almost any engineering field. As everything gets more integrated, having a baseline knowledge of lots of things is incredibly useful - I'm the only person in my office of electrical/software engineers with significant mechanical experience, which means I understand the impact of the work we do outside of the normal 'single disciplinary' boundaries.

    I'm 100% confident I wouldn't have this job if it weren't for my time at uni - even if I haven't used the specific details of my degree since I started! The ability to look at a problem in systematic way, and the general engineering skills I learnt have meant I've been able to quickly pick up any field I've tried to.

    A degree is the minimum you should be leaving uni with - As josh said, the degree is a piece of paper that gets you in the door. Uni is the time to experiment and do projects - you won't have a better opportunity. Along the same lines as Luke, I know I got this job because of my interview, and I interviewed well because I have experience from projects like Formula Student, and passion for those projects when I discuss them.

    Also, uni was bloody good fun, and I learnt plenty of 'non-academic' lessons as well =)
  • "Nothing you learn will be wasted" - how true!!!

    Education is all about learning, and its important to understand that you need to try something before you decide you don't want to persue it.

    As you learn what you are good at, and enjoy what you are good at, you will begin to specialise in something. Your experience and achievements in your specialism will differentiate you against others and help you get jobs more easily.

    When I interview engineers I put their "qualifications" to one side and look at what they have done. But...there is a limit to what you can "do" without a degree, so I would advise you to continue with all the enthusiasm you can muster.

    There are loads of engineers with degrees, but a degree plus Greenpower experience is better!
  • Thanks for all your feedback guys, it's really helpful for myself and I'm sure there are others in the same position as me.
    I don't hate school or anything academic for that matter, but for some reason the price of Uni along with the fact that I wouldn't be working until my early 20s seems to me like a path I don't want to do. For some reason I thought that I would be at a disadvantage when getting a job.
    I know it seems like I'm a bit too money-driven here, but I assure you that my opinions are not based upon financial grounds. My brother got an apprenticeship at Safran Landing Systems who are one of the largest engineering companies in my area and now sings the praises of the apprenticeship route plenty so my bias at the moment is likely influenced by my lack of knowledge of the one side compared to the other.
    Interviews - Yesterday my school staged some Mock interviews, this was something that I would definitely recommend to other schools as I'm sure it'd be very intimidating for me to walk into an interview room trying to secure my dream apprenticeship or college place with no experience of an interview prior to it.
    I'm involved in another motorsport outside of school called Tractor Pulling so as well as Greenpower the interviewer was amazed that I'd found time to do so much recently and thought that this developed my likelihood to get a job. Thanks Greenpower! Hopefully interviewers at potential apprenticeship companies will have the same opinion of me.

    I know that some companies in my area offer sponsorship for a HND or degree studies within the work hours of apprentices that they believe are 'able' - Is this something I should research more as it seems to be the best of both worlds?
    Ooh dear - I've written a fair few paragraphs here.
    Thanks for your help everyone!
  • And another thing.......good engineers are enthusiasts, which industry admires. There's nothing wrong with "doing a Luke". His enthusiasm has got him where he is today (even though he did a spectacular 360 at Dunsfold in front of me years ago - well it was wet..).
  • Thanks to everyone for their thoughts and input, all very helpful. For those interested I've decided to continue at Warwick. As advice for other people that get their uni places through clearing I strongly advise you use the short amount of time you have to decide to properly research the course so that you don't get surprised come September.

    Dan Waite
  • Warwick have a decent Formula Student team and (if they're anything like we were at Bath) will be crying out for enthusiastic electronics guys - I'd highly recommend trying to get involved. Its hard to explain how much I loved my time doing FS when my top anecdote is the time I spend the 72 straight hours before we launched the car building bodywork.

    Also, weChook are based just down the road in Leamington - Midlands dream team anyone?
  • Warwick has lots of links with industry, as have many other universities. Get stuck in.
    There will come a time when you leave the education sytem and join the industrial system. That time will be obvious when you get there. For me, I was asked if I would stay on and do a PhD. I said, "No thanks, I'm skint." - which was the truth. No regrets, but very pleased I got the degree.
  • Indeed, Warwick are a great university. They have extensive links with Jarguar Land Rover I believe. Not to mention they have very good research ratings. Get stuck into other stuff outside your degree and you never know what you might find that interests you! It may turn out that actually you really enjoy the more general engineering aspects.
  • Warwick does have lots of JLR ties... the majority of our research teams are based on campus!

    I'd mostly echo what everyone else has said. I did a pure electronics degree at Southampton - while I wouldn't go back and change it, it did leave me with various gaps in my general engineering knowledge which I'm constantly finding and filling. I can sympathise that two years general engineering then one year specialising might not be quite what you want, but it does have its advantages.

    While that degree got me to the graduate scheme interviews, I think it was side projects and experiences that got me through the interview - it's amazing how many parallels you can find between developing an Android game with your housemates and designing an in car infotainment system! Probably would have gone even better if I had some GP experience under my belt at that point too :)

    And weChook are Leamington based if you're getting GP withdrawal symptoms ;)
  • Hi all,
    It's been a while since I last posted on this thread. I've been to some open evenings for sixth forms, colleges and companies offering apprenticeships within the past few weeks and I think I've made a decision.

    I'd like to do a Technical Apprenticeship in either mechanical or electrical engineering, with a focus towards CAD and that sort of area. Many companies I've visited offer sponsorship through a degree within the latter end of the Apprenticeship period. In my area, mid Gloucestershire, engineering makes up a very large part of the industry with companies such as GE Aviation, Safran Landing Systems, Delphi, Kohler Mira and McDonnel Douglas all offering apprenticeships to name but a few.

    It's true that I'll be sad to leave Greenpower. As a result, myself and four friends will be forming a new privateer F24+ team, Kestrel Racing, with the aim of building a car after our GCSEs and debuting at Dunsfold this year. We all hope that we can learn a lot of new skills this way, as none of us have ever designed or built a car completely before.

    Hope to see you on track later this season!
  • Well done Sam. You've done your research and come to a conclusion. Good effort. Too many students are direction-less and end up finding themselves applying for jobs they don't really suit. Good luck with everything.
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