Holly Broadhurst, former student at The JCB Academy, won apprentice of the year at the 2016 National Apprenticeship Awards. We caught up with Holly to find out more about her role at JCB and to find out what inspired her to pursue a technical education.

Congratulations on your award as the UK’s top Higher and Degree Apprentice. Please explain a bit about your role at JCB.

I am a Design Engineer at JCB Compact Products and look after all the machines we manufacture. On a day to day basis I could be dealing with assembly line issues, service issues, customer requirements and things like that as well as looking at regenerating current machines. So it’s quite a wide range of things I cover.

As one of the first students to join The JCB Academy how did it prepare you for the world of work?

The Academy prepared me incredibly well. Straight away you’re immersed in the business world, from the subjects to the school hours, everything replicates industry. Even small things like there being no school bells means you have to start thinking about time management. You establish a work ethic through your studies, you still do all your core subjects but you’re doing your diploma too which means working with employers, for example, during my quality module I was working alongside JCB and learning how they work and problem solve in real life.

How did The JCB Academy differ from your previous school?

For me the biggest difference was definitely the practical nature of the learning. You still do all your theory work but you get to put it into practice, so instead of sitting there thinking ‘why am I learning this? What’s the point?’ you’re getting to put it into context, and you see why you’re doing it and what the point is and you’re learning how to use it within industry.

What inspired you to pursue a technical education?

I had an inkling that I wanted to go into engineering. I enjoyed all the STEM subjects and I was big into maths, science, design, art. I went along to the open days for The Academy and saw that this was something I could make a career out of so that was what inspired me really, the fact that I could follow my interests.

What was the best thing about studying at somewhere like the JCB Academy?

The best thing was that every day was different. You get in and you could be working with Bosch on a maintenance task, and they might say ‘we’re sending you to London to do some work on the London Eye’! It meant it was exciting to walk through the doors each morning.

How important are the technical skills UTC students develop for the workplace?

So important. You’re learning about maintenance systems and quality approval processes, how you go about designing a car. It meant that when I started work and I was in a meeting or something, I knew what people were talking about. It also meant that when I was at university I was topping up and furthering my knowledge, whereas my peers who had come from mainstream schools were learning things from scratch. And as well as technical skills you learn all the soft skills that are vital for the workplace. You do talks, presentations, tours and not just to your classmates and teachers but to the big bosses from real companies.

What do you think are the best ways to encourage more young girls to pursue STEM roles?

In my experience there isn’t a barrier to STEM roles, there’s just the perception that there is one. Perhaps this is perpetuated through a lack of understanding about what STEM jobs entail and what they’re about. If you want to go into a certain career and you’ve got the right information about it, you should go for it, there isn’t anything stopping you. So maybe we need to start by ensuring girls have accurate information and plenty of it.

What advice would you give to young people who are considering joining a UTC?

Absolutely go for it. If it’s the kind of learning that suits you and you’re interested in technology or engineering then you’ve got nothing to lose. I can say that having gone through it and come out the other side, even if I didn’t want to pursue a career in engineering I wouldn’t have been at a disadvantage. All the skills you’re learning are transferrable and so you’re not closing down any opportunities.

You joined The JCB Academy at 16 when it first opened but what do you see as the benefits to joining a UTC at 14?

I obviously didn’t have the option to start at 14 but I think the earlier you get started the better, for both the work ethic and the technical and engineering specialities; the longer you have to process what you’re learning and how you’re being taught the more you get used to it. I think it is hard for 14 year olds to make decisions about their future careers but that’s not what they’re having to do, they’re just following an interest which might turn into a passion and a career, or it might not. But it doesn’t matter because you won’t have wasted that time, you’ll still have gained all those skills and all the academic side of things.

In a sentence or two, why do you think people should ‘Think UTC’?

It’s a different way of learning and it makes you stretch yourself and challenge yourself – I don’t think we should all be following the conventional route in education and I think if this model works for you then you should do it.

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