Meet Jess, Apprentice Machinist at MRC Harwell

Jess Monk, 23, is an Apprentice Machinist at MRC Harwell, currently working towards an Advanced Apprenticeship in Engineering. She started her 4 year Apprenticeship in 2013.

Jess has always been interested in engineering. From a young age she enjoyed helping out on her grandparents’ smallholding during the school holidays, particularly working with her Grandpa to fix machinery and design and make equipment to help him with tasks such as feeding the animals.

After finishing her GCSEs at Didcot Girls' School, Jess completed the Springboard programme at Abingdon & Witney College to help her achieve better grades. She began considering what course to take next and decided that a practical rather than academic course would best suit her style of learning. University didn’t appeal to her as she wanted to continue her learning in a more hands on environment.

Jess says: “I considered an Engineering course but was a bit worried about what people would think and that they might say that Engineering isn’t for girls! So I looked into doing an NVQ in Health & Social Care. During the interview process I realised that it really wasn’t for me and decided to go back to what I really love – Engineering.”

An interview at Abingdon & Witney College helped confirm to Jess that Engineering really was what she wanted to do and she went on to complete both Level 2 and 3 diplomas in Engineering at the college.

Jess felt that the next step for her would be to progress to an Engineering Apprenticeship, so she approached The Engineering Trust, a charitable training organisation specialising in Engineering Apprenticeships and training. When they contacted Jess with an opportunity to become an Apprentice Machinist at the Medical Research Council she jumped at the chance! It was an organisation she knew well, since her Grandpa had worked there as an animal technician and her great uncle was an engineer there.

Jess was invited to spend a day at MRC to meet the team and have a go at some machining and other jobs that she would be doing as part of the Apprenticeship. She fell in love with the place immediately and, after returning for an interview, was delighted when she was offered the Apprenticeship on her birthday! What a fantastic present!

Two months later Jess started her Apprenticeship and has enjoyed every minute of it since! Her role is very creative, as it involves designing and making bespoke equipment for the scientists at MRC. Jess says: “They have crazy ideas for experiments and we design and manufacture the equipment for them! We also help the Building Services Team with maintaining machinery around the site. No two days are ever the same!”

Jess spent the first 6 month block of her Apprenticeship on PEOs (Performing Engineering Operations) to give her the basic training she needed to work with the machinery at MRC. Since she had already gained an NVQ Level 3, she opted to take a welding course while other Apprentices training with her caught up.

Jess has now completed the first year of an HNC and aims to progress to a HND once she’s finished. She also has the option to continue studying to degree level. She’s also had the opportunity to request and take a number of additional courses that support her current role and future career, including pneumatics, cryogenics, fork lift driving and scissor lift use, paid for by her employer. There are other benefits too such as a great pension scheme, healthcare and travel expenses.

A new Apprentice is due to start at MRC in August and Jess will be mentoring him, a first step into a supervisory role for Jess as her career develops. This could lead to her managing the workshop in the future.

Jess says: “I love coming into work. The team I work with make it the best! The Engineering Trust are really supportive too.”

Jess’s top tip:

There are so many different paths to take in Engineering. Look around at them all and get some experience if you can.