Helen Bedigan, Engineering Apprentice at BEL Engineering, tells us about her decision to study engineering through an apprenticeship rather than going to university.

What inspired you to take up a career in engineering?

I’ve always been more logically minded. At school I preferred STEM subjects and was introduced to engineering through a civil engineering project at 6th Form. I enjoyed the project but thought I might prefer mechanical engineering, as I preferred the thought of being hands on and working with machinery.

What education route did you take?

I stayed on at school to do my A-Levels because I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I wasn’t really aware of any other options. My A-Levels took me three years to complete and I was struggling with the thought of going to University.

By chance, the company that ran the civil engineering project I had completed contacted me to tell me about another scheme that they ran called a Year in Industry. This was a yearlong, paid placement for engineering students to undertake before attending University. I thought this would be an excellent way of testing out whether or not I enjoyed mechanical engineering (and a way to put off University for another year), so I applied.

I was accepted and given a placement at British Engines. I spent a year working my way around different departments and discovered that I really enjoyed Production Engineering. I was able to talk about careers with the head of the production department; he explained that for that type of role, apprenticeships were much more highly desired than degrees as I would gain practical machining knowledge that could not be gained at University.

Not long after that conversation I applied for an apprenticeship with British Engines. I was successful in my application and I am now in the third year of my apprenticeship at BEL Engineering.

What do you love most about your job?

I love that there are always new challenges to face and new things to learn. I enjoy having the opportunity to work on a variety of tasks, some of which involve me being on the shop floor and others in the office.

Describe what engineering is to you in three words

Career, Development, Reward

What advice would you give to a young person thinking of a career in engineering?

Do some research into the type of field you might enjoy and try to find a way of gaining experience. Experience can be preferable to academic knowledge, but it can also help you to get your taste for engineering.

Do you think it makes a difference that you are a woman working in what was traditionally a male environment?

Being a woman in a predominately male environment was never something I thought about. I didn’t consider it at all when deciding to apply and it has never been an issue for me.

It seems to be people outside of the engineering world who are surprised when I tell them what I do!

I’m not entirely sure how to answer the question. I’ve never worked in a traditionally female environment so I can’t compare, equally, I don’t know what it is like to be a male in a predominately male environment.

In terms of my own experience, I suppose there are differences between myself and the male apprentices, but I think it is unrealistic to expect otherwise, everyone is different after all.