Following school, Sarah Hewitt, (33), from Belfast, worked in her family’s retail business before deciding to pursue her first passion for engineering. At 26, she returned to learn and earn, by way of an apprenticeship, and is keen to share her journey.
Sarah said, “After my A-Levels, I completed a foundation course in engineering at Ulster University which covered all kinds of engineering, but I was undecided which path to follow. Sitting in lectures all week just didn’t appeal to me as my preferred style of learning is a bit more hands on, so I went into the family retail business.”
“After seven years in retail, I decided I needed a change, but I had no idea where to start. It was hard to consider a significant career change when I had financial commitments, such as a mortgage, so I needed something to further myself whilst still earning. It was my husband who initially suggested looking at an apprenticeship, and that’s when I found opportunities at Thales, where SERC was the learning provider. I didn’t know opportunities like this existed and I am keen to share my journey with other women who want to make a change.”
She continued, “Before I started an apprenticeship, my understanding of what it would entail was very different to the programme I completed. Since I had some A-Levels, I was able to commence at the Higher-Level Apprenticeship (HLA) and completed a three-year programme (over five years due to Covid and starting my family). During this time, I worked alongside qualified Engineers across several departments within Thales as well as studying at SERC one day a week. This approach to learning was new to me, and I found being able to learn on the job beneficial as I had been out of education for many years.”
“Although I did well at school, I didn’t really enjoy the learning experience. Going back to do an apprenticeship was much better. I was there because I wanted to be there. At College, the lecturers appreciate you are a mature student with different ‘baggage’, and as an apprentice you are working full time hours four days a week, so there was a bit of flexibility, both from SERC and Thales, when it came to assignments. Some modules were assessed through coursework and some through examination, but there always seemed to be a good balance.
“The thing I enjoyed most about the mechatronic engineering apprenticeship was the variety – you never get bored. At Thales, apprentices rotate around the organisation to see how different departments work which gives you a real insight into the whole organisation.”
Speaking about her current role Sarah said, “I started in manufacturing, moved to methods (planning), and then I had the opportunity to move to internal communications which led to my current role as Social Impact Manager. My role is to support any bids the organisation is working on in their social impact, there is a 10% clause for social impact and this could include volunteering, outreach, careers events, and promoting STEM which involves connecting with up to 50 schools across Northern Ireland. One of the biggest challenges for the industry is bridging the skills gap, so the industry can continue to grow. It is also important we encourage girls into engineering. One of the biggest challenges of my role is tracking the impact these activities have on the wider community.”
Sarah concluded, “I am a great advocate of the apprenticeship route. Going to university will be the preferred route for some but to be able to work and finish up with a qualification and no debt is brilliant. At Thales, you are guaranteed a job at the end of your apprenticeship. The organisation has invested in your development, enabling you to thrive during your career with them. My advice to anyone thinking of taking the first step into a career or like me, thinking about changing direction, is to go for it, and don’t let misconceptions put you off.”
Visit www.serc.ac.uk to unlock your future #BetterOffAtSERC.