From education to employment

Meet South West College students who have chosen an apprenticeship to help them get ahead in their career

Meet South West College students who have chosen an apprenticeship to help them get ahead in their career.

As part of Northern Ireland (NI) Apprenticeship Week 2024, students from South West College who have chosen the apprenticeship pathway to employment are sharing their stories to showcase how an apprenticeship can give you the training and qualifications you need to help you get ahead in your chosen career. 

‘Apprenticeships are a fantastic entry route to kick-start your career’, says Darragh Burke, from Derrygonnelly. Darragh studies Level 2 Painting and Decorating at the Enniskillen Technology and Skills Centre and is employed as an apprentice with Shane Kelly from Belleek, which he says offers the perfect combination.

Speaking about the benefits of an apprenticeship, he said:

“The apprenticeship pathway is perfect for young people interested in starting employment as it means you can be employed while earning your qualifications.” Darragh enjoys the practical aspect and says ‘each day we are learning something new, gaining experience and getting paid. As an apprentice, I have had the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects including applying paint systems by brush and roller, preparing for and applying specialist decorative finishes, and applying paint systems by the airless spray method.”

Similarly, Andrew Mc Cann, from Aughnacloy, who studied Plumbing and Heating at the Omagh campus could not recommend the apprenticeship route enough and says apprenticeships are the way forward.

He explains, “Apprenticeships give you the skills and knowledge to succeed in your career and are an ideal pathway into many different careers. For anyone considering studying a trade apprenticeship at the College, it is an excellent place to learn, with fantastic facilities for everyone.”

Aine Leonard, a native of Dromore in County Tyrone, shares her insight on the benefits of apprenticeships, stating that they open doors to a wider range of experiences.

During her Brickwork apprenticeship at the Omagh campus, Aine has had the opportunity to acquire valuable knowledge and skills in various areas. These include working on private housing developments, where she has honed her abilities in constructing foundations, solid walls, and cavity walls. Additionally, Aine has gained expertise in working at heights by building gable walls, including the construction of chimney stacks.

Furthermore, Aine has expanded her expertise through her involvement in timber frame construction for new residential housing contracts. This includes working on projects such as the development of new three-storey apartments. Aine acknowledges that these experiences would not have been possible if she had chosen to continue her education solely within a school environment.

Aine said: “I have always loved working with my hands and getting stuck in. I have learned so much out on-site with my employer, and in College through my brickwork apprenticeship. I enjoy what I do and would recommend an apprenticeship at SWC to anyone. “

Former SWC Electrical apprentice Daniel Knox, who studied at the Enniskillen Technology and Skills Centre and is employed by GP Electrical & security, emerged victorious at Europe’s largest skills competition ‘the Euro Skills Olympics’ in Gdańsk, Poland in 2023, which he feels wouldn’t have been possible without the apprenticeship route.

Reflecting on his journey, Daniel, who is now a fully qualified Electrician said:

“I have learned so much from this experience, and without a doubt, it has helped me improve in my career as an Electrician. I would like to say a huge thank you to my tutors at the College and my boss, Gary Phair, as well as Team UK, who have been very supportive in my journey to this stage.

“For others seeking to enter the sector, I would encourage them to join the electrical apprenticeship at SWC, as you will not only be earning and learning, but you will have the opportunity to compete in professionally organised and challenging skills competitions that will help you improve your confidence and skill set.”

It’s not just earn as you learn apprenticeships at Level 2 and 3, that young people are choosing, Amelia McCormack, a native of Loughgall in Co. Armagh, was a successful student at St Catherine’s College, where she excelled by obtaining 10 GCSE’s and 3 A Levels. Driven by her ambition to pursue a degree in Business Management, Amelia decided to explore her options and ultimately chose to embark on the popular Higher Level Apprenticeship (HLA) route at the College.

Speaking about her decision, Amelia expressed her attraction to the “earn while you learn” aspect of the apprenticeship. She went on to complete her HLA foundation degree in Business Management, at SWC Dungannon campus achieving a distinction, while progressing in her career at Terex.

Lorraine O’Neill Logistics Manager at Terex Cooperation was full of praise for Amelia:

“Amelia finished her Foundation Degree with a distinction which we at Terex are all very proud of. We offered the position of Logistics Coordinator to Amelia. Previously her position was Apprentice Logistics Administrator, so it was a natural progression. In her Coordinator role, Amelia arranges delivery of machines to global destinations. She liaises with dealers from all around the world that have different requirements and she manages this very well. The role is fast paced and challenging and needs a lot of attention to detail and I am happy to confirm that Amelia is progressing very well”. Amelia has now progressed to studying the Ulster University BSc (Hons) in Business.

Enniskillen resident Nathan Shaw, 21, studies a HLA in Construction Engineering with Surveying at the Enniskillen campus. As part of his foundation degree level qualification, Nathan studies at the College one day per week and is employed four days a week at Tracey Concrete Ltd.

Nathan said: “The HLA offering at the College is a complete game-changer for anyone aspiring to a career in construction. It is so worth it! I don’t think I would be where I am financially without this option. It accelerates your career path, equipping you with years of hands-on experience, that makes you stand out amongst your peers.”

In Nathan’s eyes, fast-tracking your career is one of the most significant benefits of a HLA. By the time you graduate with qualifications, you already have years of working experience under your belt, setting you apart from other candidates entering the construction industry for the first time.

Christopher Robinson, Head of Work based Learning at SWC, said:

“NI Apprenticeship Week showcases the wide-ranging benefits of apprenticeships to both young people ready to start a career and to local employers wanting to strengthen their skills base. Apprenticeships provide students with the knowledge and skills for careers that will provide them with the best possible job opportunities for their future.

“Apprenticeships are about much more than ‘learning a trade,’ the range of industries offering apprenticeships has never been more varied, they are a steppingstone to wherever you want to go, be it higher education, career progression, working globally, or owning your own business. At South West College, we offer a wide of apprenticeships and higher level apprenticeships including accountancy, hairdressing, construction, engineering, plumbing, computing and lots more.” To find out more about apprenticeship opportunities at South West College or to book your one-to-one slot please visit, Eventbrite and search SWC

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