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Name: Ryan Acres
Age: 25
Type of engineering: Marine
Employer: Babcock International Group

‘University wasn’t for me,’ says Ryan Acres, despite it being his original plan. ‘I left school at 16 to go to college to do a BTech in sport with the sole aim of going straight onto university, but I quit my degree after about two months,’ he says. ‘I’d taken a gap year and got a taste for earning money. I started to worry about getting into debt and if I’m honest, I wasn’t suited to the intensive academic learning.’

The problem was that Ryan still wanted to wind up with good qualifications that would help him climb the career ladder. ‘That’s when I started to think about an apprenticeship.’

Ryan wasted no time in applying for not one, but three, different engineering apprenticeships – ‘I love solving problems and that’s what engineers do’ - and was ‘chuffed to bits’ when he got accepted onto two of them. ‘It meant I didn’t even bother with the interview for the third one. Looking back, I think my previous work experience and age went in my favour – it meant I portrayed myself as quite mature,’ he says.

It wasn’t easy to choose between the offers from South West Water and Babcock, he recalls. ‘I wound up choosing Babcock because it’s a bit bigger and global. I felt there might be more opportunities.’

As a craft apprentice, Ryan was initially sent to college to do an NVQ in fabrication and welding. By the end of his first year, his results and reports showed him to be so capable that he was asked if he wanted to do a higher apprenticeship, which would involve staying at college to do a foundation degree in naval architecture. ‘I was thrilled – even more so when I landed the job I wanted.’

Ryan explains that within his apprenticeship scheme, the apprentices get to work on various projects in a dockyard, but there was one in particular – weapons alignment – that he really took to and that’s where he’s now based. ‘It involves measuring weapons to a very high accuracy. I have to go out onto the ship, where I carry out surveys and take measurements, then come back to the office and manipulate it on CAD to produce a report. It’s varied and exacting work and I put into practice every day what I learn at college, which I still attend once a week, building up my qualifications.’

The balance of college work and day-to-day work is easy enough to manage, says Ryan. ‘If I have extra college work and have a spare hour at work, they’re fine about me doing it there.’

Even six years into his apprenticeship, Ryan is the youngest staff member by about 20 years, which initially concerned him. ‘I thought the older ones might be funny about me coming and trying to do what they do, but they couldn’t have been more supportive. In fact, the apprentices seem to get more respect than the graduates who come in. They know we’ve grafted our way up and done everything including sweeping the floors – they admire that.’

Ryan’s girlfriend is at university, with debt building up – ‘whereas I was able to buy my own house at 22, still do a degree and be in no debt at all.’

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