The University of Chester’s Faculty of Science and Engineering and employers in the North West region have partnered together to offer what they say is the first degree apprenticeship in the UK to be based upon an Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) accredited chemical engineering degree.
The BEng in Chemical Engineering at the University’s Thornton Science Park is currently accredited by the IChemE – which is working together with the University of Chester to ensure that the degree is accredited as part of the apprenticeship. The new Science Industry Process/Plant Engineer Degree Apprenticeship (level 6) has also been designed in consultation with employers of chemical engineers in the North West.
Professor Steve Wilkinson, head of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Chester, explains that the faculty and employers in the region decided to launch the degree apprenticeship because large employers “are now paying the apprenticeship levy”, which can be used to train employees to graduate level.
It has taken around three years to develop and get it approved. Wilkinson explains that the Trailblazer Group needed to get support “from at least 10 companies” before it could gain approval to develop the apprenticeship standard.
“During the development phase, IChemE organised a meeting to bring together academics and industrialists to discuss how to take the apprenticeship standard forward,” he says. “Once the standard had been developed, the University of Chester and IChemE organised meetings, but employers had to make the final decision to employ apprentices or put existing employees on the scheme.”
Standard details listed on the Institute for Apprenticeships website (www.is.gd/tovara) state that typically candidates will have achieved grade C or above in at least five GCSEs, including English, Maths and a Science subject, and hold relevant level 3 qualifications. “Other relevant or prior experience may also be considered as an alternative,” it adds.
They will apply their knowledge of underlying engineering principles to implement and develop new processes or plant and to support product development; and work autonomously and as part of a wider scientific and engineering team.
The typical duration is 60 months, it adds, while typical job roles may include: process engineer, process safety engineer, chemical engineer, project engineer, biochemical engineer, plant engineer, and maintenance engineer.
Asked about take-up and the future, Wilkinson says that there was one starter in October 2018 (see box). However, there have already been five confirmed starts for October 2019. “We expect numbers to grow now that the profile is being raised and with the levy being paid,” he adds.
BOX OUT: Student view
Michael Leary joined Unilever, working in its Advanced Manufacturing Research and Development (R&D) Centre in Port Sunlight, Merseyside, in October 2018. He is the first to take part in the degree apprenticeship opportunity.
While working as part of the pilot plant team, he is studying part time at the University of Chester for a BEng degree in Chemical Engineering. Leary is paid by Unilever as a full-time employee during the apprenticeship and, as with all degree apprenticeships, he does not pay any tuition fees.
“It’s a superb opportunity for me,” he states. “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. I’m busy but really happy to be learning in both the university and workplace environment.”