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A rewarding career with a degree apprenticeship

Watching her dad build a playhouse in the garden of the family home at age three, armed with a handful of plastic tools ready to join in – Rebecca Henry knew even back then that creating something useful for others was all she wanted to do.

Now, aged 24, she’s fulfilling those early ambitions – ignited by her dad Simon, a joiner, and grandfather John, a tool maker – after completing an Engineering Degree Apprenticeship at the University of Sunderland this year, supported in partnership with her employer Tharsus.

Rebecca began her apprenticeship after completing her A-levels, as a technical officer six-years ago in the manufacturing division of Northumberland-based Tharsus, now one of the UK’s largest manufacturers of commercial robots.

Recognising her passion for the engineering industry, Tharsus wanted to support Rebecca’s ambitions to further strengthen her knowledge and experience of the sector and teamed up with the University of Sunderland, which has a successful track-record in developing highly-skilled employees through its Engineering Degree Apprenticeship.

As one of a new generation of female engineers, Rebecca is now hoping her journey will inspire other young women to take the leap into what was a traditionally male-dominated industry, which she believes can now offer so much as a career.

“People just assumed engineering was only for men, and it was unheard of that women could progress in this industry,” says Rebecca, “but that’s changing now. The stigma is lifting and more women are choosing a pathway through engineering and STEM, and are excelling.”

“At Tharsus, year on year, since I began, more female engineers are now coming through, it’s definitely moving in the right direction and we are starting to really make our mark in engineering!”

The University of Sunderland is currently working with more than 60 employers, including Tharsus across the region, delivering successful higher and degree apprenticeship programmes.

David Knapton, principal lecturer in engineering says: ‘The degree apprenticeship route is an attractive and accessible way to study for both apprentices and employers. Peer supported learning allows an opportunity for apprentices to learn across a network of companies and broaden their experience in ways not possible with solely on the job training. Apprentices learn in a vibrant learning environment supported by academic staff with significant industrial experience themselves.”

Gordon Ramsey, head of manufacturing at Tharsus, says: “Rebecca has demonstrated a positive work ethic, initiative, maturity and resilience throughout her apprenticeship. Her abilities have enabled her to play a significant role in developing manufacturing cells and in improving Quality, process and efficiency in each case.

“Furthermore, her lead role in carrying out the Competence training programme within the Manufacturing team has brought about significant change in the confidence, ability and drive of her colleagues. It has proven so successful that the plan is to now cascade this throughout the Tharsus group. A testament to Rebecca’s ability as well as her profile within the business.

“It’s both clear, and disappointing that the gender balance within engineering is far from being addressed at the rate it should be. As a business we are attempting to change this and have great examples of female engineers who perform at a high level within their role, but additionally bring balance and an alternative view to the team perspective.”