AJ Engineering

Laura Mair (20) is one of the first Heriot-Watt University, Engineering, Design and Manufacturing Graduate Apprentices who joined Forres firm, AJ Engineering & Construction Services last year. She is doing a bachelor's degree while working full time for the company.

Laura and General Manager of AJ Engineering share their experience about Graduate Apprenticeships. 

Offering apprenticeships is nothing new for AJ Engineering. Managing Director Alan James explains how his firm is embracing this new work-based learning route.

"Graduate Apprenticeships are the next step for work-based learning and, of course, with our history of taking on apprentices, since the company was created, we jumped at the chance to be involved."

Alan is himself a time-served apprentice, starting out with William Reid Engineering Ltd. When that company closed, Alan who was by then, project director, launched AJ Engineering.

"I was an apprentice and it seems that there has been a rejuvenation of apprenticeships which has been fantastic, however, since I started AJ Engineering it has always been the norm for us to take on apprentices.  It is a great way of filling a skills gap. Apprentices are the lifeblood of our company, and as well as welcoming Laura as our Graduate Apprentice, I am also delighted to have four other apprentices starting too. My dream is to, one day, see one of our former apprentices sitting in my chair, running the company. That would be a proud thing and good for the company.

"This is a great way for young people to get a degree while gaining real-time experience in the workplace. Laura is studying for her degree, with most of her time as an employee being assessed on tasks carried out here with us. She attends Heriot-Watt University one day a week for traditional learning as well."

Laura, whose Graduate Apprenticeship (GA) is in Engineering Design and Manufacture (Electronic or Mechanical), said she was delighted to join the AJ team:

"I have a HNC in Mechanical Engineering and once that finished I really wasn't sure what I was going to do. I am fascinated by mechanics and I loved physics at school but I wasn't sure where it would lead me. Then I saw this opportunity and got the post. It really suits me as I wanted to get stuck in and just get going in the work place. Now I feel I have the best of both worlds. I can get an education and learn while I work. There is nothing that can really compare to that."

GAs were developed by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) working with employers and education, supported by European Social Funds.

They support the Scottish Government’s youth employment strategy and were developed in line with Sir Ian Wood’s recommendations for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce.

Amanda Mason, Employer Services at SDS, said: “AJ Engineering is a great example of a local company using work-based learning and apprenticeships to develop their workforce.”

Graham Alexander, general manager at AJ Engineering said: “Graduate Apprenticeships are new, but interest in them in gathering pace and having been involved from the onset we would recommend this to other businesses out there. Skills Development Scotland fully fund the GAs so there is no cost to the apprentice and the employer only has to cover their salary. It’s a win, win. The apprentices get trained to a higher level than ever possible before, they don’t rack up any debt and they get experience in the workplace. The employer is able to fill a skills gap and is able to support a young person through their education and train them to the level required for their industry.”