From education to employment

Finding Something You are Good at Leads Andrew to Apprenticeship

Serc student apprentice

A South Eastern Regional College (SERC) apprentice has been shortlisted for a Department for the Economy’s (DfE) Northern Ireland Apprentice Award 2024.

Andrew Smyth, (25), from Ballygowan, is employed by Thales UK Ltd, where he is completing a Level 3 Apprenticeship in Advanced Manufacturing Engineering.

Andrew said:

“I am delighted to be shortlisted for the award.   It has taken a while to get to where I want to be, but right now I couldn’t be happier with the way things have turned out, since getting myself onto the Apprenticeship Programme.”

He added:

“After my A-Levels, I took a job with Deloitte to do accountancy but, after two years, I decided it wasn’t for me.   I started a degree in Computer Information Technology at Queen’s University Belfast but then COVID hit.   I lost my part-time job in a coffee shop and really needed to be working and to be out of the house doing something, so I left the degree programme and found work in a nursing home.  Over two years I progressed from Cleaner to Care Assistant, which I did for a full year.   I found the work rewarding and important, especially during those days when our clients couldn’t even have their own family visit.”

He continued:

“I had a few friends who worked at Thales and they encouraged me to consider applying for an apprenticeship.   Since I was young, I have always been interested in cars, how things work and building things with Lego. I applied for the programme and have successfully completed my Level 2.  I am now undertaking my ApprenticeshipNI Level 3 in Manufacturing Engineering and haven’t looked back.  I fell in love with the work, the work environment and I have really enjoyed the learning experience I’ve had with SERC.”  

“My first year’s apprenticeship at Thales was a rotational year, which gives you an insight into all the different areas of the workplace – electrical, fitting, machining, manufacturing engineering, – and at the end of the year, you get to choose – within business needs – which pathway you take.   I was undecided between electrical and methods but was offered an electrical position as an apprentice in Thales Alenia Space (TAS), which is primarily involved in satellite production.  I was the first apprentice in Belfast to be offered an opportunity to work on the satellite propulsion systems in TAS due to the complexity of the product. It was a big deal and a great opportunity which I jumped at.”

“My day-to-day role involves building a wiring loom from start to finish, which takes about three weeks depending on the loom.   These power and control the propulsion units for a satellite.”

Andrew continued:

“The Level 3 Apprenticeship has opened doors for progression in Thales. I have successfully secured a role with the methods team on completion of the qualification, which will enable me to advance within the organisation.”

“Earning whilst you learn through an apprenticeship is very helpful.   Learning at college has been great.   Everyone has been very helpful with giving career advice.   The machine shop is good – it has been great being in there and having all the software and applications at hand to progress all that you are learning and to support what you are doing at work.”

Andrew is keen to encourage others who may be in a similar position to the one he found himself in, concluding:

“Just because you are not good at something, it doesn’t mean you won’t find ‘your thing’, whatever it is that you want to do.   Just keep trying, ask questions, do a bit of research.   I don’t ever consider that I dropped out of anything, the things I tried just weren’t for me, so I felt the need to move on to something that matched my skills and interests better – that was engineering, and now I am living my best life.”

Would-be apprentices are invited to SERC’s Apprenticeships – All You Need to Know sessions 4.30 – 7.00pm on Tuesday 6 February (Bangor and Newtownards Campuses) and Thursday 8 February (Downpatrick and Lisburn Campuses) during Northern Ireland Apprenticeship Week, 5 – 9 February 2024.

The Northern Ireland Apprenticeship Awards 2024 will take place on Wednesday 27 March 2024.

Visit for more.

Related Articles