A new wave of learning is emerging at North West Regional College (NWRC).
Post A-Level students, students who have undertaken Level 3 qualifications, and those currently in employment looking to upskill into a new role, are being given the opportunity to take part in a major employment initiative in the North West that allows them to jointly study and work in paid employment in their chosen profession as part of the Higher Level Apprenticeship (HLA) programme.
NWRC offers HLA courses in Accountancy; Software Development, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, International Hospitality and Tourism Management, Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Leadership for Children’s Care, Learning and Development.
The courses are all funded by the Department for the Economy so students never have to worry about tuition fees, in fact the HLA is a unique work based programme that enables participants to earn while they learn, while gaining a recognised Level 5 qualification.
22 year-old Catherine McCay, a graduate of History and Anthropology is now studying for the HLA in Accountancy after returning home from England to find she couldn’t find any work relating to her Degree.
She said: ‘’I met Christine Hutton and Claire McLaughlin from NWRC at the Jobs and Benefits office and they advised me to apply for a HLA in Accounting because most people who studied history tended to gravitate towards it.’’
‘’I’m really enjoying my time at the college and although it can be difficult sometimes to balance my studies with my job at North West Mechanical Services, the lecturers have all been really helpful and my work colleagues have been very understanding as well.
‘’By the end of my HLA course I’d like to become a member of Accounting Technicians Ireland (ATI) and achieve an accreditation. I’d also like to further my studies and hopefully forge a career as a forensic accountant.
She added: ‘’I would definitely recommend people to choose the HLA route because I have a job now and I didn’t have that before I enrolled on the scheme.
‘’The Higher Level Apprenticeship is also free and it provides people with on the job training. They’re also paid by their employer to come and study at the college so there’s no reason why people shouldn’t look into pursuing an apprenticeship.
‘’I’m a prime example of someone who went to university, studied for three years, got a degree but still couldn’t get a job.”
19-year-old Alex Fenton is studying for a Higher Level Apprenticeship in Civil Engineering at North West Regional College, while working for Farran’s Construction.
He said: ‘’I’m glad I chose to study here because I really enjoy my Civil Engineering Apprenticeship and my lecturers are always really helpful especially If I don’t understand how to do something. My classmates are also really friendly and I get on well with all of them.
‘’I would really recommend people to choose the Higher Level Apprenticeship route especially if they’re interested in Civil Engineering because I’m able to earn while I learn and receive a higher level qualification accredited by Ulster University.
‘’I also have no financial debt because it’s funded by the Department for Economy and I have more hands on experience than most people at university.’’
Sarah Gillespie is a fully trained pharmacist who gave up her day job to study the Software Development HLA at NWRC and went on to win the Department for the Economy’s Apprentice of the Year Award.
Sarah is completing her Apprenticeship with local employer Fujitsu. She explained: “I left school to study Pharmacy but after a few years of locum work around the country I felt that I wanted a change. I took a job working in a lab to give me time to consider my options and it was while working here that I heard about I.T. Apprenticeship opportunities with NWRC and Fujitsu. I completed my level 3 Apprenticeship and I’ve been able to move into a P/T foundation degree in Software Engineering which I will complete in 2020.
“I work in Fujitsu’s Shared Services team which helps resolve technical issues on behalf of customers across the business. Together with colleagues, I investigate user error reports and create solutions. It’s a diverse role which involves a lot of creative thinking and problem solving.
‘’I will complete my HLA next year. I wouldn’t put anyone off going to university if that’s what they wanted to do but I think the HLA in Software Development accredited by Ulster University is a brilliant opportunity for those interesting in pursuing a career in IT. The HLA allows me to earn as I learn and I’m more experienced than someone coming out of university.’’
Christine Hutton, Skills Development Officer with NWRC said: “Many young people are now considering the Apprenticeship path as an alternative to the more expensive option moving away from home to undertake a Degree.
“HLA programmes offer employers an opportunity to ‘employ clever’ as they are aimed at addressing skills shortages which are increasingly evident across the region. HLAs are widely recognised as the best combination of on the job training and employee higher level study available.
“Apprentices will gain a head start in their chosen profession and all costs are funded.
“The Apprenticeships offer a new pathway for learners to gain professionally recognised qualifications at Level 5 whilst working in paid employment with partner employers.”