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Ellen James, Bentley Motors

Driving Bentleys around the track, encouraged to try departments out and given responsibility early on, Ellen James loves how Bentley treats its apprentices and her career engine is raring to progress.

Ellen James When working towards her A levels, Ellen James' experience of college put her off going to university and so she started looking into her options. Unfortunately apprenticeships were never presented as an option when she was at school, or even during her time at college, however her college's career advisor changed all that.

Discovering James' passion for working, that physics was her favourite A level, and the fact that she came from a family of engineers, the advisor showed her a list of the engineering apprenticeships available at the time.

"Bentley was on the first page and that was it for me, having always admired the cars," she says.

Applying to Bentley's apprenticeship scheme

"Initially you submit an application online, then you go to the factory and sit three tests. The applicants are then filtered depending on the results and the next stage is an interview about your experiences and skills ie team work, accountability and empowerment; they also question you about the company," she says.

"Additionally I had to give a ten minute presentation from a selection of subjects we had been sent previously. We also had to take part in a group activity. Finally I had interviews with a member from each of the functions who were requesting an engineer; I was then invited back for a medical and offered the job.

The education

For the first year the apprenticeship scheme is very structured, guiding you into the company. Apprentices attend internal training courses such as presentation and communication skills and problem solving techniques.

Before the programme is over apprentices will complete Key Skills Level 3 and NVQ Level 4, but have the option to do much more.

"So far I have completed an NVQ Level 2 in Performing Engineering Operations," James says. "I have also recently completed a Foundation Degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering and I started the full honours degree in September.

The experience

"My day-to-day experience is based in my sponsoring team whereby I fulfill roles and responsibilities similar to those that other engineers are tasked to do," James says. "My year group of apprentices meets monthly for a catch up meeting and to raise any issues/concerns. It is a good chance to see every one as actually many of us do not see each other day-to-day. I have also been involved in community/charity projects and school liaisons - this is a big part of the apprenticeship scheme and all the apprentices are advised to get involved."

James currently works in the Safety Electronics department, so her short term goal is to acquire a permanent position there.

"Long term I think I'd like to move higher up within the company and into management - as I'm quite driven. I'm happy being in electrical engineering as it is developing so quickly - there's a lot of future potential in this area."

Joining the IET

James joined the IET this year, on the recommendation of many members of her department. One of the reasons they told her to go for it was because she aspires to work toward Chartered Engineer (CEng) professional registration, and the IET can support it's members with this in many ways. She also believes IET membership is really helpful to students and apprentices.

"I enjoy receiving the E&T magazine as I get to read about current engineering developments and also keep an open mind about future career paths," she says. "I think the resources available are particularly useful as a student - especially for referencing in assignments. Additionally the guide documents such as those on assignment writing are very useful.

The pros of being a Bentley apprentice

At Bentley apprentices are encouraged to take placements in other functions, which gives them a wider base of knowledge about the business and also lets them create useful contacts for the future. Apprentices also get given a lot of responsibility early on, so they start to feel like a contributing factor to the business, something James found important and satisfying.

"My highlight so far has been that I've been lucky enough to travel within my job role and my favourite trip would have to be going to VW's test track, Ehra, and getting driven around the track in a Bentley - you really get to experience the product and appreciate how well engineered it is," she says.

But James has found that it isn't all fun and games.

"I now feel well integrated into my team and it is quite difficult to balance the requirements of my apprenticeship, my degree and my daily workload," she explains. "I would like to just take my full-time position now, but I must complete my apprenticeship first!

"But in all honesty, I think choosing an apprenticeship was the best decision I've ever made - it's the best of both worlds. It's a lot more difficult, but I think at the end of the day I'll come out with a bank of experiences and knowledge that others who perhaps just went to university can't compete with."