Meet Blair, an Engineering Design and Manufacture student on the Graduate Apprenticeship programme at Edinburgh Napier University. Blair splits his time between his studies and work at Engineering firm Plexus in Kelso.

My name is Blair Sanderson and I’m a Continuous Improvement Engineer with Plexus in Kelso and I’m on the Graduate Apprenticeship, Engineering Design and Manufacture course at Edinburgh Napier University. 

What does your job entail?

As a Continuous Improvement Engineer at Plexus, my job entails coaching and supporting the introduction of lean manufacturing principles, leading and supporting improvement projects and general observations of processes – removing waste and variation to improve manufacturing efficiencies.

What was the biggest attraction for you about the Graduate Apprenticeship course?Blair Anderson

The biggest attraction for me about the Graduate Apprenticeship course was definitely the ability to learn and be in further education while I was still working so I was still earning money developing my career but also having the opportunity to be in further education.

How has your course and your work benefited your career thus far?

I originally did a Modern Apprenticeship with Plexus back in 2012, finishing in 2016, and the Graduate Apprenticeship has given me the opportunity to go on further with my education. I have also picked up things that have broadened my knowledge that actually help with my current job role, so if I think about the different processes and products that I’m looking at, then the understanding of why these products and processes are designed the way they are certainly helps for identifying opportunities for improving my ability to carry out my job.

What benefits have you seen in your work from studying your Graduate Apprenticeship?

The knowledge that I’ve gained from further education has definitely been beneficial to my work in Plexus, some of the knowledge that I’ve gained from my education has helped me to recognise differences in processes and procedures in Plexus to understand why we’re doing it and why we’re doing it that way.
It’s definitely been a good opportunity to apply the knowledge that I’ve learnt on the Graduate Apprenticeship course within work, it kind of reinforces that learning. Sometimes the penny doesn’t fully drop until you see it practically, until you see it in the workplace.

Are there any key skill you’ve learnt during your time at Plexus and studying your Graduate Apprenticeship?

I suppose in the Graduate Apprenticeship, the key skill that I’ve learnt is the ability to have that time management, so to manage my time in the workplace and to also manage my time in my studies.

Another thing that I’ve enjoyed in the Graduate Apprenticeship is the networking with the other GA students, actually understating what industries they work in and how their industries differ from the one that I’m working in.

Are there any challenges you’ve faced during your time at Napier?

I think the biggest challenge for me was that time between finishing my Modern Apprenticeship and starting my Graduate Apprenticeship and that gap meant that I was kind of out of the routine of studying and needing to manage my studies. Also, that prerequisite knowledge that I had previously was living somewhere at the back of my head, so I needed that refresher before I started the Graduate Apprenticeship course.

How did you overcome that?

I overcame my gap in education by utilising the support offered by Edinburgh Napier. They ran summer classes before the Graduate Apprenticeship even started to provide those refreshers on classes such as maths and things. They were hugely beneficial and got me back up to speed on where I needed to be and also got me back in that swing of learning.

Would you recommend a Graduate Apprenticeship to others?

I would 100% recommend the Graduate Apprenticeships to other people. I actually wish that I’d maybe done it earlier. I the opportunity had been there as a school leaver I definitely would have considered it, knowing what I know about the Graduate Apprenticeship.

Do you see yourself as set apart form those who took the traditional university route?

Yes. I think those that do the traditional degree come out of university and need to familiarise themselves with the workplace and the environment you’re going into. That can take a year or two to get up to that level to understand your company and your company’s practices, The benefit of the Graduate Apprenticeship course is that you’re learning that while you’re earning your degree, s you go in at the end of that fourth year with your degree and an understanding of how your business operates.

What advice would you give to somebody considering a Graduate Apprenticeship?

The advice I would give to somebody considering a Graduate Apprenticeship is be prepared for the workload that it entails, so be prepared to be working nine to five and then going home and studying for your university degree.

I certainly wouldn’t let that put you off, it’s a short term to earn your degree and get the opportunity to be working at the same time.