National Apprenticeship Week 2019: Josh Schofield04 March 2019

National Apprenticeship Week, 4-8 March, shines a light on future technicians and engineers, and the courses, teachers and employers that prepare them for success. Josh Schofield is an instrumentation engineer apprentice at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL).

I’m in my third year of the four year instrumentation engineering apprenticeship at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL). I work across a broad range of areas; as the UK’s National Measurement Institute, NPL provides measurement capabilities that underpin the UK's prosperity and quality of life – which can span from tackling antimicrobial resistance to ensuring secure quantum communication.

My role is to design, develop and build instruments and equipment that underpin the measurement science conducted at NPL. Due to the breadth of NPL’s work, I am involved in a broad range of engineering projects. I spend my days in and out of our engineering workshop, building pieces of equipment and calibration facilities in the lab and working with scientists to help build instruments to support their work.

More recently, I’ve been involved in the development of a novel instrument used to capture and identify sources and sinks of different types of atmospheric methane, with NPL’s atmospheric metrology group. This will go onto support government emission estimates.

I have also been rebuilding one of NPL’s primary standard radiometry calibration facilities, which are used to define how light and optics are used for communication. This will help NPL to provide even better calibration offerings for space agency satellites.

I applied for the apprenticeship mid-way through A-levels. I went for it because I realised practical experience with industry would be beneficial for me. Working on big projects as part of a team, rather than focusing just on my individual studies is something that helps to keep me driven and motivated. During school I would spend most of my time on extracurricular activities and getting stuck into coursework, so it made sense to use my practical side to my advantage while also gaining a qualification!

The variety and diversity of the work at NPL is what really drew me there. I’ve also definitely gained from the flexibility in terms of skills and interest in this role.

The ability to think multiple steps ahead and deal with many things at once has been key to my apprenticeship. It has been a very interesting dynamic – almost like being at a university without the students. There is a unique opportunity for self-experimentation and research. With an apprenticeship it’s all about trying things out by yourself.

Through my work at NPL I’ve been able to learn how to present myself best within a working environment, gained the skills I need to work effectively in a team; interacting with senior members of staff and delegating jobs. These are transferable skills that I’ll be able to take with me into my future career.

I have also learnt a wealth of practical skills. For instance, Computer Aided Design (CAD) is a key tool for engineers and extremely important within industry. As is machining, simulation and modelling, which I have also learnt, alongside how to build and test electronic circuits.

I would definitely encourage other people to consider an apprenticeship. It is a great opportunity to learn the transferable skills for workplaces in the future – rather than related to the field you specialise in, or general work. Skills you do not gain until you are in the work place. You change and develop and improve a lot as a person.

Even if you are interested in engineering and not sure in what type – that doesn’t matter. With the apprenticeship there is an opportunity to hone your skills. There’s nothing better than being faced with something new and challenging every day.

NPL has been a really supportive place to be throughout training. There are a few things I can do once I have finished. I have the opportunity to go to university and complete a ‘top up’ degree, or I can stay full time at NPL, in the engineering department. I think I will probably go down the studying route, I’m thinking mechanical engineering, or design, as it is only for a year and then I can go back to NPL.

Josh Schofield

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