Apprentices are our Future

“If I can’t teach anyone my skills, who’s going to do my job after I retire?” asks 67 year old Coppersmith Neil Hansen.

Neil works for a Farnborough company, Sigma Components Ltd, which manufactures specialist parts for aircraft structures and engines.

The work is highly skilled metal craft – and it’s all done by hand. But Neil and many of his colleagues are hoping to retire in the not too distant future.

Sigma, which is based in Invincible Road, has been proactive in solving any potential skills gap by working alongside the college, recruiting young people to do apprenticeships.

Our apprentices spend four days a week learning practical skills in the workshop and one day a week studying Engineering practical and theory in college.

Neil is acting as a mentor to apprentice Jordan Woollhouse, 17, from Farnborough. Jordan says: “I really enjoy working here. It’s amazing to know something I have made is going into an aircraft. I never imagined I’d be doing anything like this. It’s opened up so many doors.

“I really like combining studying with working because the studying becomes so much more relevant. This will be a career for me going forward. I think it will be my career for life.”

Nick Ridgway, 21, from Fleet, is also doing an Engineering apprenticeship with Sigma. He said: “Before I started here, I was working in a coffee shop, going nowhere.

“Now I‘m well on my way to forging the career I want. Once I’m fully qualified, I’d like to progress into supervising or management – go up the career ladder.

“I really like working at Sigma. Everyone in the workshop is supportive and always has an answer for any question I have. There’s a great morale and camaraderie.

“And I much prefer college to school because you’re learning something you want to learn. I think FCoT is a brilliant college.

“I would say to other people considering their next move, definitely think about an apprenticeship – it’s a good foot in the door of whatever field you want to be in. And of course, you’re earning money!”

Mentor Neil also began his career as an apprentice. Aged 16, he started Coppersmithing with the Great Western Railway, hammering brass plates and trims on steam locomotives.

Neil says: “Being an apprentice has given me a career for life. I enjoy supporting the young ones coming through. We need them because a lot of us in the business are retiring.

“If no-one was there to take our place, who would carry it on? I’m really pleased to be able to pass on skills that would disappear otherwise.”

Sarah Kennedy, Human Resources Officer for Sigma, agrees. She says: “The vast majority of our skilled mature workforce were originally British Aerospace apprentices. We are blessed to have these very well trained guys who themselves have come through the apprenticeship route.

“But we need our workforce to pass on their invaluable experience before they leave us and that’s the beauty of having apprentices on board.”

The good news is that Sigma has just signed up another six apprentices who are due to start in September.

Alex Ierardi, Placement Advisor at the college, supports engineering apprentices from their initial application to when they complete their training – which takes between two to four years.

“At the moment, I deal with 100 engineering apprenticeships running through the college with a variety of different companies. Every year, we bring new companies on board and every year, the same companies come back to us requesting new apprentices.

“There is a skills gap and apprenticeships are the ideal way of plugging it. As an apprentice, you have the benefit of learning immediately relevant skills and earning money at the same time. As an employer, you’ll be taking in fresh ideas plus new and up to date practices that will help grow and develop your business.”

Apprenticeships at the college cover a wide range of sectors including, Construction trades, Engineering, Hair & Beauty, Hospitality, Health & Social Care and Business, to name a few. These are offered from a Level 2 to Higher Level Apprenticeships (4/5).



Apprentices can be any age from 16 upwards.

Employers pay a salary which will of course vary. Funding for course fees, exam and assessor fees is paid by the Government for 16-18 year olds. For those 19 years and older, some funding is available but employers are expected to contribute towards the cost of the training.

However, businesses with less than 50 employees who take on an apprentice aged 16-24, may be entitled to an Apprentice Grant for Employers which averages approximately £1,500 per apprentice.

Find out more about how to become an Apprentice.

Find out more about how to employ an Apprentice.

If you are interested in joining Sigma as an apprentice, please contact sarah.kennedy@sigma-farnborough.aero.

Sigma also has current vacancies for Coppersmiths, Sheet Metal Workers and Welders.

There's still time to apply for September, enrol today!
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