“To me it’s a no brainer.” Meg Aucott tells us. “Why wait until after college or university to get industry experience? Why not bring that in earlier and get people interested?”

Meg graduated from the UK’s first UTC, The JCB Academy in Rocester, in summer 2012. By September, she’d secured a four-year engineering apprenticeship at luxury car manufacturer Bentley. We caught up with her to find out more.

What first sparked your interest in studying at a UTC?

“I’ve always been interested in engineering—it’s a career I’ve always wanted to go into. I’d hoped to do that through the armed forces, but unfortunately that didn’t work out. Then the UTC came along and it was the ideal Plan B.”

How did life at UTC differ from mainstream school?

“The main difference was the contact with industrial partners. At mainstream school you study GCSEs and A-levels, but you don’t get that direct link back into industry. At a UTC, you see stuff in a textbook and then apply it to real life problems with these companies you work with.”

Was your relationship with teachers and fellow pupils different too?

“About half the teachers had come out of industry and gone into teaching. In that sense it was different—they’d really done the things they were teaching us about! As for pupils, everybody had made a conscious choice to go to a UTC. This meant we all wanted to be there and to work hard; we could see we were getting something out of it. There was a lot less disruption in the classrooms too and behaviour was generally a lot more professional.”

What do you think is the biggest misconception about UTCs?

“The lack of knowledge out there about what they are. When people initially hear about UTCs they don’t always understand what’s being offered. In the same way apprenticeships used to be seen in a less academic light, some people believe UTCs are the same. But you can get as much out of a UTC—and more—as from a mainstream school.”

Some girls might be uncertain about studying subjects like technology or engineering. What advice could you offer them?

“My advice would be that you don’t lose anything by going to a UTC. I had a couple of girl friends who did engineering. After finishing, they decided they didn’t want be engineers and went into teaching instead. But going to a UTC didn’t hold them back.

“I think it’s a case of, if you know what you want, bonus—UTC will give you the right experiences and knowledge. But if you’re teetering on the edge, you won’t lose anything by going to a UTC. If anything, you’ll gain something because of the additional knowledge that UTCs offer. Dip your toe in the pond, and go for it!”

You now work for Bentley. Do you think this opportunity would have been available to you if hadn’t studied at UTC?

“The opportunity would have been there, but I wouldn’t have been confident applying. In interviews, I was able to give real life examples of problem solving and engineering tasks with industrial partners. I think that was one of the main reasons I got my job at Bentley.”

What advice would you offer a young person considering moving from mainstream school to a UTC?

“Don’t worry about going to a new school, or changing the way you’re learning. If it’s something you’re invested in, you’re going to enjoy it. At a UTC, you’ve chosen subjects you want to do. It’s a benefit—if you enjoy something, you’re going to do well. Don’t be worried about taking that leap of faith!”

Why should people #ThinkUTC?

#ThinkUTC because it’s all about opening doors, opening your eyes to new experiences and unlocking opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.”

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