NATIONAL APPRENTICESHIP WEEK 2022: National first for apprentice

“Knowledge is the best thing you can have – the more you learn the better you can become.”


Northumberland-based Sterling Pharma Solutions and the University of Sunderland have partnered to deliver degree apprenticeships in Electrical Electronic Technical Support Engineer and Manufacturing Engineering.

One of these apprentices is James Morton, who has now graduated with BEng first-class honours and become one of the first people in the UK to complete and pass an Electrical Electronic Technical Support Degree Apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships are job-role specific and involve a range of work-based projects which allow learning to be applied directly into business. This week celebrates the 15th annual National Apprenticeship Week 2022 (February 7-11) and the University is shining a light on the inspirational work of our apprentices, partners and staff.

While studying his apprenticeship, James was promoted to Assistant Plant Manager at Sterling, a global pharmaceutical company developing and manufacturing the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) that go into life-saving drugs around the world.

Sterling currently has six members of its Cramlington site’s 650-strong workforce undertaking a degree apprenticeship with Sunderland. Over the last three years, the company has grown significantly, expanding its operations and acquiring three new facilities in the UK and US.

Investment in staff has been key to this growth, and the organisation is committed to continuously upskilling its people.

James, 25, from Cramlington, who began working at Sterling four years ago as a technician, said: “I have always been someone who wants to continuously develop myself and I believe that knowledge is the best thing you can have, and the more you learn the better you can become.”

After leaving school, obtaining a degree was always in the back of James’ mind. He explains: “When I looked into the degree apprenticeship opportunity that Sterling and the University of Sunderland were providing, I realised how beneficial it would be. It was a no-brainer to work full-time, develop my skills and study, all while getting paid.”

Michael Douglas, Senior Lecturer in Engineering at the University of Sunderland, said: “James was a dedicated and motivated apprentice, who consistently achieved a first-class grade profile, he was also a well-respected member of the cohort.”

He added: “The degree apprenticeship programme continues to grow by working with local industry. It helps to develop employees into motivated, qualified, and successful engineers. The University has a good relationship with Sterling Pharma Solutions and has apprentices on all stages of the degree apprenticeship programme and values the industrial experience that each apprentice brings with them to the University.”

Brett Sharkey, Learning and Development Business Partner at Sterling, said: “In the time we have worked with the University of Sunderland they have provided great support to our apprentices.

“This degree apprenticeship, allows employees an opportunity to step up; it also allows our organisation to carefully consider and address succession planning and skills shortages that are faced industry-wide. It enables us to support, train and nurture our managers of the future.”

He added: “We are delighted by James’ progression since he joined us. He’s incredibly motivated, and the work he did as part of his dissertation has helped in our continuous improvement projects.

So what advice does James have for others thinking about an apprenticeship?

“I have learnt that I’m a lot more flexible and adaptable than I thought I was. I would certainly recommend others to do an apprenticeship,” he says. “But make sure you do your assignments early, prioritise your marks, be strategic and meticulous, but above all don’t get stressed. There is always help and support there for you.”

This is the 15th annual National Apprenticeship Week, a week-long celebration that takes place across England, showcasing the impact apprenticeships can have on communities, local businesses and regional economies and how they all benefit from the impact of apprenticeships.

To find out more about Higher and Degree Apprenticeship at the University of Sunderland click here.


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