‘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.