Students eager to earn a chemical engineering degree but concerned about the cost or time commitment of attending university full-time now have a new option, at least in the U.K. An initiative just launched there provides an apprenticeship route to a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from an accredited university. A candidate works directly for a company, gaining real-world experience while studying at the university part-time.
The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), Rugby, U.K., the University of Chester (UC), Chester, U.K., and employers worked together to set up the apprenticeship program. To take part, a candidate must apply directly to a participating company. If accepted, the person becomes a full-time employee of the company during the apprenticeship and pays no tuition fees.
“The new Science Industry Process/Plant Engineer degree apprenticeship has also been designed in consultation with major employers of chemical engineers in the North West. Unilever, the global consumer goods company, was the first employer in the U.K. to offer the apprenticeship,” notes IChemE.
Bill Harper, immediate past vice president, qualifications, at IChemE, spent the last two years working with UC on its apprenticeship model, adds the group.
Typically, the apprenticeship program will involve an average of 40 days of study per year over a five-year period, with the rest of the training occurring in the workplace, according to UC.
At the end of January, IChemE and UC announced the first person taking part in the program: Michael Leary, who works at Unilever’s Advanced Manufacturing Research and Development Centre in Port Sunlight, near Liverpool.
“It’s a superb opportunity for me. I’m busy but really happy to be learning in both the university and workplace environment. The principles I get from my university studies are reinforced with real-life experience at Unilever, where I work closely with process development engineers, R&D scientists and pilot plant technicians,” he enthuses.
Tom Gibbins, a manager at the Unilever facility, adds: “We’re delighted to have partnered with the University of Chester to offer the U.K.’s first chemical engineering degree apprenticeship and to be able to support Michael with the first step in his career. At Unilever we understand the huge benefit in supporting young future talent with their transition into work, and in the coming years we will be looking for more enthusiastic apprentices to join us in making a sustainable difference.”
UC currently lists a similar apprenticeship opportunity at Cavendish-Nuclear in Warrington.
IChemE now is in early stage discussions with other U.K. universities about running similar apprenticeship programs. It sees its key role as accrediting programs so students have a clear route to professional development and registration.
Such programs also could work in the United States. Sure, apprenticeships represent a significant step up for employers of chemical engineers — in both commitment and financial support — from the short-term internships available here. However, enlightened companies should appreciate the potential value. For their part, American universities should see such programs as a way to extend their reach to capable people who can’t engage in a full-time program for a chemical engineering degree. Moreover, the industrial insights the apprentices bring to their coursework might benefit other students — and even some professors.