This year’s National Apprenticeships Awards was held virtually. It’s the 25th November and nominees are sat at home, glued to their tablets, to see if they have scooped an award. Alex Headspith is one of them. He’s a former apprentice and now Mechanical Technician at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Daresbury Laboratory and is no stranger to working with state of the art scientific research equipment.

STFC champions science and research in various fields. They run the National Laboratories, eight facilities packed with equipment, such as: neutron scattering and light source facilities; laser and accelerator research facilities and high performance computing. They also provide national technical capabilities in nuclear physics, particle physics, astronomy, accelerator science, instrumentation, and space technology. It is a huge research capability, on top of which more 1,700 academics in over 50 universities and research institutes working in these areas are supported by STFC. Working there is a big deal.

STFC doesn’t just support Universities, it recognises there are many pathways to a successful and enjoyable career. No wonder the organisation wins awards for the varied range of apprenticeships it offers across the country. STFC won the prestigious Institute of Physics (IOP) Apprenticeship Large Employer Award 2020 recently. Now Alex Headspith is a National Finalist in the National Apprenticeship Awards, nominated for the BT sponsored award for Advanced Apprentice of the Year.

Alex entered the competition early in the year. His apprenticeship finished in the summer. He is now a qualified mechanical technician working on particle accelerators, detectors and other scientific instruments which will find homes in scientific institutes across the world. His apprenticeship built the skills he needed from the very start. “I was definitely nervous at the start, but if I was to go back to the start and have a talk to myself I would say that I would do the whole thing again,” comments Alex.

An Apprenticeship at Daresbury Laboratory is hands-on from the very start. Alex found himself learning about building and maintaining high-tech scientific devices such as accelerators. A wide range of organisations from healthcare, energy, biosciences to food development manufacturers come to Daresbury Laboratory to solve industrial problems with them. Apprenticeships provide opportunities to expand your knowledge and confidence whilst being trained in exceptional facilities. Alex flourished at STFC, learning specialist engineering and manufacturing techniques needed to be at the cutting edge of science.

“I have always had a passion for engineering and decided at a young age that this was the career for me. At school I was pushed towards academia over apprenticeships, but the opportunities I’ve had as an apprentice are fantastic. I left school at 16 and last summer I was at CERN in Switzerland, the largest particle physics lab in the world. When I think about it, my apprenticeship was fantastic. I’ve been well trained, got a great job and worked in some of the world’s top facilities. Getting to the Final of the National Apprenticeships Awards is just the icing on the cake,” reveals Alex.

Helen Johnson, Head of Apprenticeships for STFC, is proud of their apprenticeship scheme. ‘Apprenticeships are a fundamental part of STFC’s strategic vision. They are a great way of attracting new talent, helping to ensure the pipeline of people and skills needed to support the complex needs of our expanding portfolio. We work hard to provide a well-rounded, first-class scheme in a supportive, collaborative environment led by experts across many fields,” she says.

If you thought apprenticeships were about making tea and passing people bolts, then think again. Helen is the first to bust this myth. “Apprentices work with incredibly advanced technologies and equipment on some of the most exciting, real-world research projects. Not only do they get the opportunity to rotate across different departments to maximise their experience, also get the opportunity to work at leading research institutes abroad. All of these valuable opportunities open so many doors for our apprentices at STFC, enabling them to build relationships with many other employees, propelling them into successful careers across our various operations.”

Dan Walker hosted this year’s virtual awards. BT sponsored the Advanced Apprentice of the year category and he begins to introduce the Head of Apprenticeships at BT, Ann Potterton, to announce the Nominees. All nine nominees are winners in the regional finals across the UK, Alex representing the North West region. “To be named North West’s Advanced Apprentice of the year was amazing. It’s one of my greatest personal achievements and I am so proud to be recognised in this way. Whatever happens now will be a bonus,” says Alex.

Jonathan Aghanian, Apprenticeship Coordinator at Daresbury Laboratory, is willing Alex on. “Alex has become an extremely accomplished technician, who has a confident and inspirational nature. He works hard and has a promising career ahead of him. We were all delighted that Alex clinched the regional award,” encourages Jonathan.

The finals are judged by a panel of 32 with difficult decisions to make in selecting winners from each category. “Congratulations to everyone who has made it this far, “says Ann as she introduces the nominees. “Nine amazing young people here. The talent, the passion and the drive is very clear from every single one of them,” states Dan Walker.

The winner of the award this year is Chris Jones from JCB, the West Midlands’ regional finalist. While the competition has been tough, and the awards prestigious, the real winning is actually taking part. “I’m delighted to be a regional champion of apprenticeships and I think it’s important to enter these awards to help people learn more about the apprenticeship opportunity. People need to know more about this great opportunity to earn, work and learn,” Alex enthuses.

Jonathan Aghanian agrees: “We want more people to know about Apprenticeships and the opportunities they provide across all sectors of industry. Across the Liverpool region Be-More is a great source of information and a place where STFC and other local companies advertise their apprenticeship opportunities. You should check out their website.”

If you are already an apprentice and want to follow in Alex’s award-winning footsteps then sign up for alerts on how to enter by subscribing to the National Apprenticeship Service Awards newsletter.