Apprentice follows in her dad’s engineering footsteps
A University of Sunderland apprentice, who was inspired by her dad to pursue her passion for engineering, is now hoping to blaze the trail for other budding female engineers.
Holly Herron, from Washington, was just a young child when her interest in engineering was first sparked.
“I first realised I was interested in engineering around the age of 12 through my dad,” Holly said.
“My dad has always worked in engineering, and I would often help him out with projects inside and outside the house.”
Holly took to engineering like a duck to water and enjoyed solving complex problems and puzzles. In secondary school, she took engineering as one of her GCSEs, giving her the opportunity to use lathes and milling machines, as well as developing her woodwork skills.
Holly said: “I enjoy tackling challenges and finding innovative solutions. The problem-solving aspect of engineering can be highly rewarding.
“Despite being rooted in science and maths, engineering also allows for creativity. Designing solutions and implementing processes, providing creative expression and creating new things or improving existing systems can be highly fulfilling.
“Completing engineering projects, overcoming challenges and seeing the successful implementation of solutions on machines can provide a strong sense of achievement. This sense of accomplishment is a driving force for me in engineering.”
Holly, now 22, is only half-way through studying a BEng (Hons) Manufacturing Engineering apprenticeship at the University and she has already landed a permanent role as a maintenance technician at global technology company ZF (also known as ZF Friedrichshafen).
Holly began working at ZF’s Peterlee facility (ZF Automotive) in 2018 as part of a five year apprenticeship at Sunderland College. She was able to stay on and progress at the company after starting her degree apprenticeship at the University in October 2023.
As a maintenance technician, Holly is responsible for equipment inspection and testing the machines to identify potential issues or signs of wear as well as conducting tests to ensure proper functionality and performance.
While engineering may still be considered a typically male-dominated industry, this never deterred Holly and now she is hoping her story will encourage more young women and girls to consider engineering as a career.
Holly said: “There are many different aspects to engineering such as design and development, structural, transport, biomedical, testing and much more.
“I believe more women and girls should be encouraged to pursue a career in engineering as I think they are missing out on huge opportunities and the stigma of engineering being a “man’s job” should be broken.”
When asked how her dad Paul feels about her engineering success, Holly said: “My dad is very proud that I decided to go against the grain and start a career that is predominantly male.
“I’m very grateful for all my dad’s support and encouragement throughout my engineering career. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be in the position I am now.”
This week, as part of National Apprenticeship Week 2024 (Monday 5 February – Sunday 11 February), the University is shining a light on the inspirational work of its apprentices, partners and staff, while helping to plug the skills gap in the healthcare, leadership, digital and engineering sectors in Sunderland and the wider the north-east.
Holly’s advice to anyone thinking of studying for an engineering apprenticeship at the University is to go for it.
“The apprenticeship has provided me with practical, hands-on experience,” Holly said.
“This real-world exposure is invaluable in developing practical skills and applying theoretical knowledge. Having a mentor and experienced professionals guiding me has contributed to my learning and skills development. Their insights, feedback, and advice have been crucial for my growth in the industry.
“Being in a professional environment has allowed me to learn from experts in the field. Interacting with experienced professionals has provided me with exposure to industry best practices, problem-solving approaches, and a deeper understanding of engineering.
“The apprenticeship has also allowed me to apply the theoretical knowledge gained in my academic studies to real-world scenarios. This practical application has enhanced my understanding of concepts and their relevance in professional settings.
“I’ve had the opportunity to develop not only technical skills but also soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving.
“My apprenticeship has exposed me to industry-specific practices, standards and regulations. Understanding how my company operates from the inside is essential for adapting to the expectations of future employers.”
Holly added: “The apprenticeship programme has contributed to personal growth and an increased confidence in my abilities. Overcoming challenges and completing tasks in a professional setting has built self-assurance that will benefit me throughout my career.
“The University has been very supportive in ensuring that my needs are being met to help me develop within my career and as an individual. I look forward to graduating and seeing what the future holds.”
Holly will graduate in 2025 and has ambitions to climb the managerial ladder and explore the different areas of engineering, in particular biomedical engineering.
Lisa Hudson, HR Manager / Compliance Delegate at ZF, said: “Our apprentices are vital members of our team, who each bring something different to their respective roles. We aim to support them during their learning and development to prove themselves. Attracting young talent is equally as important as securing individuals with years of experience.
“Holly has demonstrated an excellent work ethic during her apprenticeship, so we’re delighted that we have been able to offer her a permanent role within the business.”
Sarah Beck, Academic Director of Apprenticeships at the University of Sunderland, said: “Holly’s story is a fantastic example of how apprenticeships can help people to achieve their potential, both academically and in the workplace, and also challenging gender stereotypes about particular job roles.
“The University is proud to work in partnership with employers like ZF to provide a high quality learning experience for a diverse range of learners, enhancing workforce development in the region.”
The University, in collaboration with Sunderland College, is hosting its National Apprenticeship Week Engineering and Digital events tomorrow (Thursday 8 February) at the University’s Reg Vardy Centre and David Goldman Technology Centre, St Peter’s Campus. Employers such as Nissan and Northumbria Water will there to offer advice for anyone interested in taking up an apprenticeship with them.
Professor David Baglee, Head of the University of Sunderland’s School of Engineering, said: “Gaining industry specific skills, blended with academic theory and the opportunity to study for a university degree makes our Engineering Degree Apprenticeship programme the perfect route for those who want to learn first-hand how organisations work by learning on the job while studying for a university qualification.
“Employers in the north-east have access to an increasing and diverse range of future graduates and future industry leaders, while the apprentices are being prepared for the world of engineering and manufacturing. It’s very much a win-win situation.
“Skills such as problem solving, managerial and interpersonal skills form the backbone of the programme and are seen as part of the common skills gap amongst employers.”
Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland, said: “As a professions-facing university, we believe that providing high-quality apprenticeships is a vital part of our role as an anchor institution embedded here in the north-east of England.
“For our apprentices, it is a terrific way to enhance their own career prospects and job opportunities. At the same time, we give something back to the region’s employers in providing them with the skilled people they need to succeed and thrive in the future.”
Peter Robertson, Head of Business Development at Sunderland College, said: “We are proud to be working in collaboration with the University of Sunderland and highlighting the wide range of engineering, manufacturing and digital apprenticeships available with some of the region’s leading employers.”