A taste for heavy metal

Sam Cowley left school facing an uncertain future: unskilled and untrained, university didn’t even figure in his options. Instead he drifted into further education, completed a course in construction, but quickly became disillusioned. The two days a week he spent at the college were sat behind a desk staring at a computer terminal. It wasn’t for him. “I’m a very practical personal who likes to learn in a hands-on way,” says the 20-year old from Sheffield

Today he is a skilled AMRC Training Centre apprentice at Davy Markham, one of the UK’s leading engineering firms specialising in extremely large turnkey projects across every sector, from quarrying and metal processing, through mining and tunnelling, to nuclear, defence and infrastructure.

The young man who had no academic ambition at school, is now not only studying for his HNC but is also keen to take advantage of the unique opportunity offered by the Training Centre to convert his apprenticeship into a Bachelor’s degree in engineering.

For the Director of the AMRC Training Centre, Kerry Featherstone, Sam’s story is very familiar:

“Over the last four years we have worked with almost 1,000 young people to get them started on a career in engineering. As well as increasing their job prospects, an apprenticeship increases their earning power.

“As part of the University of Sheffield we now offer young people like Sam, who may never have thought of doing a degree, a route towards an advanced or degree level apprenticeship that will enable them to earn more over their lifetime than those who have a similar-level qualification.”

Sam agrees: “When I was unemployed I was very uncertain about the pathway I would be led into and was not sure what the future would hold. But I now have ambitions to do a BA in engineering thanks to the help and support I have received at Davy Markham and the AMRC.”

All this is a long way from where he was just three years ago. “Some people you can tell will get straight A's at school, but C's were good for me. I wasn’t really an academic person,” says Sam who now sees higher education as a route to advancing his career.

With unemployment looming, Sam’s big break came through an encounter with the Prince’s Trust who invited him to a one-week ‘Get Started’ course at the AMRC Training Centre in Rotherham.

 “That changed my life,” says Sam. “I’m not really an academic person. I’m more interested in the practical side of things. I didn’t have a job and I felt like I was completely stuck – I had no idea how to take my next steps. But I knew immediately this was the pathway I would like to take for my future career.”

“We spent the week learning through practical, hands on activities. The course gave me insight into what the different processes of engineering are. From there I had some basic knowledge I could use for an interview. The Trust gave me confidence to know what I was talking about. From there everything just kind of took off.”

Next came an apprenticeship at Davy Markham with the Training Centre, and a dream come true. “It’s an amazing place to work. The first time I took a tour of the factory I was totally gobsmacked, the scale of everything is amazing,” he said.

“Coming to the AMRC Training Centre was totally different to college,” he said. ‘They have brilliant facilities to train in, so different to anything else that is around. The trainers all have experience in engineering and make you feel like you are part of a team which is really rewarding.

“Unlike college, at the AMRC Training Centre was learning every day on machines and technology that you don’t see anywhere else. And the best thing is –  you earn as you learn and that is a massive thing for a young person round here where student debt isn’t an attractive option.”

Vince Middleton, a member of the AMRC Industry Board, and boss of Newburgh Engineering, says Sam’s story is vital to the future of the region and manufacturing in the UK. “Young people like Sam are learning the engineering skills for the future in partnership with industry, where many areas are suffering from an ageing workforce and are facing a skills shortage. By providing a new highly skilled workforce, the AMRC is helping can boost the region’s economy.”

And, as someone who runs as business with over 85% of its staff apprenticeship trained, Vince should know. “Apprenticeships also mean better staff retention for businesses. 90 per cent of apprentices remain employed after completion of their apprenticeship and a quarter go on to be promoted within their first year,” he said. So apprenticeships make sense both for young people and the industries who support them in their early careers.

And Sam’s advice to anyone thinking of an apprenticeship at the Training Centre?

“Just do it. You won’t look back.”

A taste for heavy metal

Sam Cowley Davy Markham

A taste for heavy metal


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