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Bethany Cousins on taking the apprenticeship route to engineering

Published on: 11 Sep 2023

Bethany Cousins works at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in the Machining Group, where they carry out development work trying to improve processes or develop new machining methods for use in industry. 

Bethany Cousins

What first got you excited about physics? 

In school I did quite well in physics and was lucky to have a teacher that made the subject engaging and interesting. However, the subject still seemed like you were solving the problems and learning the maths for no specific reason. As soon as I began to consider a career in physics and engineering, I could see that the work we were doing in lessons could contribute to solving real-world problems.

Who inspired you when you were a teenager? 

It’s hard to pinpoint just one person who was an inspiration, but I think it’s important to recognise that there have been so many women who have made great discoveries and contributions to science. Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin are some of the more well-known but I would encourage anyone interested in science, technology, engineering or maths to seek out and learn about some of the women whose names are less well known but have been impressive pioneers in these fields.      

How did you get into your current job? 

I was accepted onto an apprenticeship at AMRC Training Centre when I was 18 years old, employed by the AMRC. The first year was at the training centre learning the basic manufacturing techniques and practical skills I needed to become a technician. I then worked for 18 months as a technician and was treated just like any other employee. Throughout my apprenticeship I spent four days a week getting hands-on experience, and one day a week in the classroom on academic study. 

After my apprenticeship, the AMRC continued to sponsor me and allow me to study one day a week. I now had the job title of Machine Operator and I worked on larger research projects. I then progressed onto a higher level apprenticeship. At the same time, I also became a Project Engineer. This is a role which would usually require a degree but due to my apprenticeship background it was accepted that I already had the required background knowledge and five years’ experience at the company. Due to my previous studies I was able to complete my degree in two years instead of the usual three!  And two years on, I have the job title of Manufacturing Engineer, where I have more responsibility. 

Engineering apprentice

A different approach Engineering apprenticeships offer an alternative to university study. (Courtesy: iStock/monkeybusinessimages)

Do you use the physics you learned in school in your current role? 

There are some aspects of physics in every research project I complete at the AMRC. In engineering, you continually apply physics to real-world situations to solve and understand problems and, at the AMRC, we aim to resolve these problems through physics-based techniques. 

What skills are useful for your job and for the industry you work in? 

I would say anyone with a physics background would be able to find an engineering-based career. An important skill is the continuous desire to keep learning; with engineering there is always something new and exciting in development. A practical understanding helps in a lot of cases, and communication is always key. The more we all work together and collaborate often the better the result and the faster we can get there. 

What advice would you give your teenage self about study and career choices? 

I would tell myself to look at all the options that are available. The apprenticeship route has given me a wealth of background knowledge matched with ‘hands-on’ experience. I’ve progressed much faster and reached the position I have much sooner than I would have done if I had taken an alternative route.