In this case study we hear from Fatima Asif from Plexus. Fatima is a 3rd Graduate Apprentice on our Engineering Design & Manufacture (Mechanical) programme. We also hear from Gail Traynor, who is the Learning and Development Manager at Plexus.

Fatima's story

Please explain how you found the Graduate Apprenticeship opportunity and give some background to what you were doing before the opportunity came up?

I found this Apprenticeship on and applied through this platform.

Prior to becoming a GA, I was in my 6th year of high school, and was completing additional Highers (Graphic Communication, Accounting) I also worked part time at a care home.

What were the benefits of Graduate Apprenticeship programme that attracted you the most?

The main reason I was keen to employed as a graduate apprentice was because I liked the format in which the GA course runs (80% work-based learning, 20% academic). I think this format decreases the pressure on students because they are not only assessed by exams. Additionally, I liked that I would be earning a full-time wage, whilst gaining industry experience to put me forward in my career.

Please describe what you are employed to do:

Mainly I engage in work and projects for the Continuous Improvement department. My role involves a lot of collaboration across different functions (incl. Shop Floor). I spend a vast amount of my time organising and planning workplace/functional improvements.

How have you coped with the challenges of learning new skills whilst studying towards a degree?

I think the reward of this program far outweighs the challenges I have faced during this course. Personally for me, knowing exactly what I will achieve and where I will be in my career after I complete these 4 years has made the challenges far easier to work through.

What is your proudest achievement to date in your role and can you explain how this impacted on your working environment and or helped deliver results on behalf of your organisation?

My proudest achievement so far, has been the area improvements I have been involved in making on the Shop Floor, and in doing so, I have created really positive relationships with many of the operators and have learnt exactly how to get the wider team engaged.

What are your future career hopes and goals on completion of the Graduate Apprenticeship?

Next 5 Years- Upon completion of my Apprenticeship I hope to gain further employment with Plexus and complete a masters. Following on from this I hope to gain CEng status with the Institute of Mechanical Engineering and hope to excel on to a senior/managerial position.

5+ Years - Longer term, I plan on leveraging my experience and qualifications to gain further experience leading teams in different functions across the business, which will set me in good stead for becoming an executive.

If I went down the traditional route, I think I would be 4 years behind in my career, and this is because the traditional route would not have given me any industry experience and after graduating, I would be starting at an entry level job. With this apprenticeship however, I will have the experience to join a couple of job grades higher than I would have straight out of university.

Can you outline what support and/or encouragement your employer has given you in your GA journey?

My work-based mentor and Plexus have offered me mentorship when it comes to my university work. Additionally, I have been through a lot personal and professional development due to the outstanding support I have received from the development team at Plexus and all the managers and peers who have welcomed me into the business and encouraged my ideas.

Please give a quote to sum up your overall experience of the Graduate Apprenticeship programme:

I will be forever grateful for this opportunity and truly believe that this apprenticeship programme has shaped my future in a way nothing else could have. This apprenticeship has provided me with all the skills and confidence to believe that I have what it takes to achieve all my goals.

Gail Traynor, Learning and Development Manager at Plexus

Can you provide some background to Plexus?

Plexus is an electronic manufacturing organisation, with over 19,000 employees worldwide. Fatima is based at our Kelso facility in the Scottish Borders where we employ 400 people. We work with our customers to design, develop and manufacture their product so essentially bring an initial concept to reality.

What are the key reasons why the Graduate Apprenticeship model suits your specific business/industry?

The GA model enables us to develop individuals early in their career and at the end of the 4 years we have someone that not only has an engineering degree but understands the business and is ready to move into a responsible engineering position as opposed to a new graduate from the traditional route that will require a lot more initial training and coaching.

What appealed to you most about Heriot-Watt University as the GA provider?

We have had great support from Heriot-Watt and the programmes that are on offer meet our business needs. Flexibility during the pandemic has also meant that the apprentices have been able to continue with their degree and now there is that option of remote learning and face to face.

In what way has the candidate made a contribution to the workplace / business?

Fatima is very knowledgeable, as a result of both her studies and the practical experience she has gained and has been able to apply this knowledge to the various projects she has led. She is well respected across all functional areas and always happy to support extracurricular events. She has done an excellent job in promoting Plexus through careers fairs and STEM events and can speak first-hand about the graduate apprenticeship programme.

How do you feel about Fatima’s future?

Fatima has a really bright future ahead and someone that we are keen to develop further within Plexus. She has recently been voted Plexus apprentice of the year and also nominated for Scottish Apprentice of the year. Fatima has willingly supported events that promote Plexus as an organisation, such as graduate recruitment fairs and school careers fairs. She has achieved top marks in her academic work and is a really valued member of the Continuous Improvement team at Plexus.

Based on your experience of the Graduate Apprenticeship programme would you happily employ another Graduate Apprentice in the future?

Yes, we have been employing graduate apprentices for the past 5 years and plan to continue. This programme offers Plexus the opportunity to develop young engineers in a way that matches our business needs. By the time they are qualified we have a competent engineer that understands our culture and values as well as having the technical skills we require.