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Why I chose the degree apprenticeship route

Nadia Johnson

Nadia Johnson

Degree apprentice
Manchester Metropolitan University and Thales UK


I am a 21-year-old software engineer for Maritime Mission Systems Thales UK, working on SONAR processing. It was my love of astronomy, astrophysics and quantum physics that eventually steered me down the degree apprenticeship route at Manchester Metropolitan University. Michio Kaku influenced my thinking a lot with his higher dimensional theories and analogies, and from this I went on to study physics at A level.​

After my first year of college, I was lucky enough to be nominated by my physics teacher for a Nuffield Research Placement, and was allocated to work with astrophysicist Dr. Debatista of UCLan. I spent six weeks of my summer helping a team of Masters and PhD students research the subject matter of integrally shaped warped galaxies. Before this, I had never really seen physics from a computational​ science view, and I had to learn how to program in order to contribute to the research project. This was a turning point for me and it was my biggest influence in choosing software engineering as a career path.​

Since then, my role at Thales has also led me to a number of other opportunities, including:

WISE – The organisation aims to inspire girls to do physics, maths and engineering. I attend many of their events and I have enlisted a number of initially reluctant female engineers to get involved and carry out activities for WISE.

Snapchat – I am the Thales UK lead for snapchat and I created a snapchat channel for the Thales early careers site showing life as an apprentice at Thales to prospective employees.

Work with schools – I present regularly at local schools about apprenticeships and on women in engineering. I also help organise workshops and talks for our upcoming talent in STEM based activities.

Work in Parliament – I have, on several occasions represented the area at a Committee of MPs in Parliament on Education, Skills and the Economy who are looking at apprenticeships more generally, the impact of them and the experiences of different apprentices at different levels.​​​

All of my efforts in going above and beyond my job role haven't gone unnoticed and last year led me to one of my proudest moments to date, becoming a finalist in the Young Women Engineer of the Year Awards 2016. I wasn't just humbled, but amazed, that my efforts had been recognised. This has given me great exposure not only within Thales but the larger engineering community, being featured on many websites and newspaper articles. ​

The Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) Young Women Engineer of the Year Awards

I guess the big question is: why the degree apprenticeship route and not a traditional degree?  I've always loved applying what I learn; I think that's what makes it concrete in my mind. Being able to take something in to the workplace and see how and why I need to know these things makes even the most challenging topics worth it. It gives the university course context and meaning, which makes you appreciate why you are there (not to mention I have no university fees).

There is a stigma attached to apprenticeships but that's something I really think needs to change. It isn't an easy way out or for rejects that can't get in to university. Far from that. I'm not saying apprenticeships should be regarded as superior to the traditional university route but they should definitely be considered as an equal. You have the balance, in my case, of what is essentially a full time job alongside a university course, and it's not an easy route. This is why I think it's such a rewarding path, and would recommend this route to anyone.

Not only do I get my university fees paid for, I am also earning a wage, which allows me to move out from home just like a traditional university student. I don't miss out on what's considered 'the university life' either. I go out with people from work and I've started hobbies such as mountain biking which I'd never have been able to afford at University. I love the route I've chosen and it really has given me opportunities I'd never have imagined I could have been involve​d in.​

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