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Eilish engineers a way through the “glass ceiling”


Eilish Millar (pictured left)

An award-winning apprentice engineer studying at Hartlepool College of Further Education has encouraged other girls to join her in the profession. Eilish Millar adapted so well to her NVQ course that she earned the College’s Student of the Year award in 2016, and is now urging others to apply for the host of modern apprenticeships on offer at the College from September.  

Apprenticeships are increasingly regarded as a practical alternative to A-levels, and this year’s school-leavers and prospective adult learners are invited to learn more.  As well as earning a range of NVQ, BTEC and HNC qualifications in subjects such as engineering, plumbing and design, students are also paid a wage while gaining on-the-job experience with a range of partner employers such as aeronautical engineering experts Babcock International, based at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire, and Peterlee truck manufacturer Caterpillar. They also include the Altec Engineering Group, who have their head office at Bowburn North Industrial Estate, near Durham City, where Eilish is in the second year of her NVQ toolmaking apprenticeship. 

Eilish, 17, from Peterlee and a former pupil at the town’s St Bede’s School, said: “I studied engineering as part of my GCSEs when I was unsure of which subjects to choose and I quickly found I loved it. “When I decided to follow it through after school my family were very supportive, although some people didn’t at first think I was making the right decision. But I have no regrets and would tell anyone, boy or girl, to come to the College’s open day to find out more about what it’s about. You are supported by the College and at work, and I found being a girl is no disadvantage. In fact, the College has a number of female engineering lecturers who have years of experience and success working in the industry.” Eilish added: “What I like is that you are at College one day a week learning about the subject and then putting it all into practice by working alongside experienced staff at Altec. You also have a mentor from the College keeping in touch with you to make sure that everything is okay.” 

Eilish is placed at Altec Engineering Ltd, which provides mechanical and electrical engineering support as well as automated solutions to a broad range of industry sectors, and has taken on more than a dozen Hartlepool College apprentices since 2010. 

Altec Engineering Group Development Director David Steel said: “Eilish is succeeding as well as anyone else here. Engineering is not about someone’s sex, it is about how keen they are and what they bring to the job.” The group, which employs 180 staff at sites throughout the North of England, offers above the National Minimum Wage to its apprentices, recognising the contribution apprentices make to the business as a whole. Further support is also possible for apprentices wishing to study for an engineering degree."  

David said: “We turned to Hartlepool College of Further Education because we were not 100 per cent satisfied with a more local apprenticeship provider and we have not regretted our decision. “They offer the flexibility that an employer sometimes needs and tailor their courses to fit in with your requirements and not necessarily the other way around. We have been impressed with the vast majority of apprentices to come from the College, and we have offered them permanent roles once they have completed their course.”  

While female engineers are not as rare as they once were, the College embraces the Women in Engineering nationwide initiative to boost the number of girls joining the profession. 

College Principal Darren Hankey praised Eilish as a “role model” for prospective female engineers and added: “Her success both in our awards and at Altec show that females can succeed as easily as male apprentices and we would encourage all this year’s school-leavers to learn about what apprenticeships we offer by attending our open night.” ]
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