Putting it all Together
The manufacturing industry is responsible for creating and assembling the products we use every day. There’s a manufacturing process for making everything from makeup to military hardware, with lots of skilled work required along the way in areas as diverse as shipbuilding, electronics and ceramics.
Types of Apprenticeship
You could be a manufacturing apprentice on programmes such as Process Manufacturing, Combined Manufacturing, Glass Industry or even Sign making. There’s often some crossover with the engineering sector, so you might be picking up some skills in that area, too.
Manufacturing is concerned with making things, whether that’s creating individual parts – for a car, for example – or assembling them into the finished product. The sector is also concerned with making the things we need to make other things, so an apprenticeship is just as likely to teach you how to fashion metal tools on a lathe as it is how to use those tools to build a robot destroyer. (OK, maybe not the last bit.)
What can I do?
The sector offers a huge range of opportunities to work with different materials at various different points in the manufacturing process. You could start at the very beginning in process manufacturing, which uses crude oil or other raw materials to make lubricants, pharmaceuticals and toiletries, for example.
Alternatively you could turn your hand to glass or ceramics, where there are roles doing everything from blowing glass or firing clay products to polishing and glazing the finished articles. You could do this on a huge, industrial scale, or you might work for a small company making bespoke items like scientific glass instruments for labs throughout the UK.
Going even bigger, those trains, planes and automobiles don’t put themselves together, so you could work on an assembly line for car engines, or in a slightly more sensitive environment learning how to build a missile, or perhaps the fighter plane that carries them. If land or air isn’t your thing, there are also opportunities building boats – we’re an island nation, after all, and we’ve been making them for thousands of years, so you’d be part of a proud tradition of shipbuilding apprenticeships.
In every industry there are hands-on roles actually working with materials and putting it all together; or there are management and supervisory positions once you have a bit more experience.
In most manufacturing roles you’ll be a part of a much larger team, so one of the most important skills you’ll need is the ability to work well with other people. As you’ll potentially be working with machines, chemicals, explosives, glass and other volatile materials, you’ll also need to listen carefully and take health and safety seriously.
There are many different kinds of work environment in this sector and the jobs themselves vary a lot, so you might need different skills depending on your role. Some are very specific: there’s nothing to compare to getting the feel of blowing glass by hand, or knowing when the glaze is right for ceramics, for example; so you’ll be learning skills that will set you up for a particular trade.
Other skills will transfer to multiple roles. Being fit, active and able to move heavy equipment safely might be one; or having a sharp eye for detail could be another. Because manufacturing can involve a lot of repetition, you’ll also need to be good at concentrating on a single task and be consistent with the quality of the work you do. Meanwhile, in management and supervisory roles you’ll need an understanding of the work your team is doing, along with good organisational skills and the communication skills to make you a good leader.
At every level, the final key skill is really solid technical knowledge about the products you’re making, as well as the tools and processes you’re using to make them. The good news is you don’t need any of that at the start: your Apprenticeship is there to teach you.
Careers in Manufacturing
Here are just some of the roles available in manufacturing:
– Boat Builder
– Glass Manufacturer
– Structural Steel Work Fabricator
– Cup Maker
– Paper Maker
– Manufacturing Jeweller
Routes into Manufacturing
Routes into manufacturing include:
– Vocational qualifications / A Levels
– National Diplomas and Certificates
– Higher National Certificates (HNCs) and Diplomas (HNDs)
– Foundation Degrees (England and Wales only)
– Bachelors Degrees
Higher level qualifications like degrees may let you start in more senior positions right away. However, degree training tends not to be as work-focused, concentrating on theory instead, so it’s important to pick the programme that suits your style of learning and career goals.
Levels of Apprenticeship
There are generally three levels of Apprenticeship offered in these areas. The one you choose will depend on your previous experience and qualifications:
Intermediate – equivalent to GCSEs / Standard Grades
Advanced – equivalent to A Levels / Highers
Higher – equivalent to Foundation Degrees
An intermediate Apprenticeship takes two years to complete, then you can continue for another year to achieve the Advanced level; a Higher Apprenticeship will then require additional time. If you don’t have the qualifications you need yet, a Traineeship can help fill in the gaps in your learning.
Life as a Manufacturing Apprentice
For a manufacturing apprentice, life can be pretty varied. As you learn your trade you could be training on a specialised piece of equipment on one day, being shown a new technique the next, and putting the finishing touches to a product the day after that.
That’s just while you’re at work: as an Apprentice you’ll also have studying to do, which will either take place at a college during the week or in the evenings. This is where you’ll learn the technical side of things and look at the theory, before putting it all into practice at work. You’ll soon learn to juggle your work and studies until it becomes your normal routine, and you’ll get lots of support from your employer along the way.
Manufacturing can throw up a few challenges, as it often (although not always) takes place in hot or noisy environments. It can be mentally and physically demanding and as much of the work happens 24 hours a day, you might find that you’re on night shifts, or required to start early in the morning. However, this is one of those industries where you actually get to make something, and see the results of your efforts, which many people find really satisfying.
As you gain more experience you’ll be given more responsibility, as well as gradually increasing your skills. You might start learning to use more tools and equipment or oversee whole stages of the production process, so that by the time your Apprenticeship finishes you’ll have a CV full of skills and knowledge that will help you in your future career.