‘Exceptional support’ for engineering apprentice Molly

JCB apprentice, Molly Burrows, has nothing but praise for her Degree Apprenticeship in Manufacturing Engineering, and for the academic support she’s received from Derby. As a result shes grown in confidence in her role at JCB, where she helps to keep the production line running smoothly.

Misconceptions about manufacturing engineering

Molly’s passion for manufacturing engineering started at GCSE level, when she first opted to study the subject. She admits that it’s a subject often misunderstood: “There’s a misconception that manufacturing engineering is just doing hands-on dirty work but it’s not. It’s doing design, working with electrical systems, and making sure everything on a production line runs smoothly. There are so many different aspects to manufacturing engineering.”

After a positive experience at GCSE, Molly was inspired to pursue a career in this area and started to look around for apprenticeship opportunities. Following applications to several major local employers including Rolls-Royce and JCB, she got various job offers but settled on JCB because of its reputation: “I thought JCB looked like a good company to work for and I spoke to people who had been to interviews there and said that they really liked the environment.”

Practical learning

Once she secured the role, JCB enrolled her on the Degree Apprenticeship at the University of Derby in 2019 and she’s found this way of learning really positive:

“It’s more hands-on and allows me to get insight into the practical skills. I'm being taught all the manufacturing processes by hand using different machinery. I think that’s probably a skill that quite a few engineers miss. I think it’s really good to understand the physical side of engineering so that in the future you are able to better understand the problems and solve them.”

Molly standing at a table covered in a black table cloth and in front of a JCB screen, talking to people in a crowd.

Still getting a university experience

One thing that has surprised Molly is how much a part of the University she feels, even though she is only there part-time, and more recently, studying remotely because of the Covid-19 pandemic: “I feel there is a close knit community with manufacturing engineering. We’ve formed a really good relationship with our module leaders so we can have laughs and really enjoy it. Also, there are lots of extra-curricular activities and you can join University clubs — you are not limited because you are doing an apprenticeship; you’ve got access to all these things. We are still getting that university life without being there full-time.”

‘Exceptional support’

Molly has been particularly impressed by the support she and her fellow students have received, even over lockdown: “The support we have received as apprentices is exceptional. At the start, quite a few of us struggled with one of our modules and we were able to get extra support. The Uni addressed this almost immediately because they didn’t want us to fall behind and they wanted to make sure we enjoyed our experience.

“Even over the lockdown period, the University has been really good at organising video calls. You can email a lecturer and they get back to you within a couple of hours or a day at the most. The turnaround time and feedback from our assignments is also really good.”

Molly decided to become a student representative for her apprenticeship, which means that it’s her job to be the student ‘voice’ of her programme, providing feedback to course leaders or raising any concerns she or her fellow apprentices have. She says: “It’s really helpful going to these meetings and feeding back how the apprenticeship is going and if we have any concerns. And if we do have any concerns, they are pretty much resolved really quickly. The course leaders are always interested in how we can improve it or if there is anything that we feel is missing.”

How it’s helped her in her role

Molly explains a bit more about her job at JCB: “I make sure the production line runs smoothly and efficiently. This might include designing or ordering new tooling for instance. I really enjoy the role because there are new challenges every day. I’m not just sat behind the computer desk nine hours a day; I’m on the production line solving problems and making sure everyone is happy.”

She’s also clear on how the apprenticeship is helping her day-to-day work: “There’s been so much that I’ve done at university that I can apply to work. For example, one of the assignments we did was on beam bending, which is really important for structural design, and which has come in really useful at work. Also, one of my highlights was the Computer-Aided Design (CAD) module; I’ve always enjoyed designing. We use Auto CAD at work, which is the same software we use at University, so it has been so helpful.”

Molly’s even become something of a mentor to her peers: “I’ve actually been using the knowledge I’ve gained at University to help others who aren’t so confident at work.”

Future plans

Molly’s immediate plans are to complete her apprentice by 2023, take her end point assessment in 2024, and start working her way up at JCB: “The career opportunities at JCB are really good and you get the chance to travel around the UK and abroad, so I’m quite keen to stay at this company. Having taken the CAD module and enjoyed this so much, it has made it clearer to me what type of role I want to be in eventually – more manufacturing engineering with design.”

Molly’s message for future apprentices

“Don’t hesitate to study at Derby! This apprenticeship has been amazing. It’s grown my confidence, shown me all the different career opportunities that I could go down. It opens up so many possibilities. The support at the University of Derby has been exceptional and the people are all passionate. The facilities and equipment we use is always top-grade. Just do it!”  

Molly is wearing a yellow JCB tshirt and is standing in front of a whit board presenting, next to a man in a white shirt and a man in a black shirt.

1 year later

Now, in her third year, Molly has collaborated in some incredible projects, allowing her to network and expand her skillset within manufacturing. In Summer 2021, Molly, alongside 7 other apprentices were asked to help run a project in collaboration with the Aston Martin Formula 1 team. She explains: “Aston Martin were building a new factory at their headquarters in Silverstone and wanted to commemorate this event by burying a time capsule that captured present day moments for the future. As we have strong links with the brand, they came to us and asked if we could help them in making a time capsule that would be dug up in 50 years. The idea was to capture Aston Martin’s heritage and brand image, whilst also showcasing how engineering has evolved over the years.”

Having no experience creating time capsule, Molly and the other apprentices had to get creative. She says: “It was our job to design it from scratch. I had no knowledge of how to create a time capsule… I was so used to working with bright yellow machines! This is what made the project so exciting. We started off with over 17 concepts and as a team, we got it down to 3 designs which were then submitted to the Aston Martin Marketing team and chief engineers.

The fans voted for their favourite designs, and the turquoise Formula one shaped car design was chosen! Once the time capsule was created, fans put in some artwork and the Aston Martin team put in a signed helmet. The craziest item added was Sebastian Vettel’s underwear!”

JCB apprentices standing round the Aston Martin time capsule

Now that the project is complete and the time capsule has been buried, Molly talks about how the project has benefitted her career: “For me, when I applied for an apprenticeship at JCB, I typically thought I would only be working with machinery such as the Backhoe Loaders. I didn’t think about the other exposure you could get. One day, you could be working with the CEO of Aston Martin and on the other, you could be presenting to chief engineers here. It’s been a great experience for networking.

I didn’t realise that there were all these opportunities to work with other brand partners and it was so exciting to do something different from the day-to-day tasks. It was great to learn different manufacturing techniques that I wouldn’t have necessarily had the opportunity to get involved with in my regular job role.”

Most recently, she was head-hunted within JCB to join the team in their future focused Hydrogen Research project. She explains: “Recently, I was head-hunted to join a new Hydrogen Research team, something completely different to my role. I never thought I would leave my business unit until then, but it was such a great opportunity that I couldn’t say no.”

Now, a few months in, Molly has got stuck in, going on training courses and working with experts within the industry. She is proud to be working on a project with JCB, an industry leader in Hydrogen Technologies. She explains: “We are experts within the industry on certain types of Hydrogen Technologies and It’s exciting to be one of the younger generations to be working on a project that is industry leading and where JCB see it as the future. We are now developing our own Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine and we recently went to the media to promote the upcoming creation of our Hydrogen Backhoe Loader and Loadall machine.”

As Molly is reaching the final year of her apprenticeship, she is keen to keep working to keep working within the Hydrogen team: “JCB see it as the future and for me that is a long career.”

Apprentice Molly using a machiene

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