EIGHT apprentices are celebrating their graduation with foundation degrees – without running up massive student debts.
The group chose to 'earn while they learn' by becoming higher apprentices at digger giant JCB rather than heading to university.
Their decision is now paying dividends as all have foundation degrees in engineering without spending a single penny on their education.
The group became JCB Higher Apprentices in 2013, combining study with practical workplace learning. Now they are embarking on further study which will see them attain full bachelor of engineering degrees (BEng).
One of the graduates Adam Varley, aged 23, of Wetley Rocks, works as a design engineer at JCB Heavy Products in Uttoxeter,
He said: “I like the freedom to earn as you learn and I am now looking forward to completing my full BEng degree at Sheffield Hallam University. It was definitely the right route to take.
“The knowledge and training you receive from colleagues is invaluable. You learn quickly and thoroughly and that has definitely helped me over the past three years."
Oliver Jones moved from Ormskirk, Lancashire, to Uttoxeter after being accepted on the programme.
The 22-year-old, who works as a quality engineer at the JCB Power Systems factory in Foston, Derbyshire, where JCB engines are manufactured, said: “I had the opportunity to go to a traditional red brick university but felt that I could end up with debts that I could not pay back until much later in life. This option seemed a much better way to go.
“I was never too keen about going to university because I wanted to be involved in work-based learning. However, I wanted to have the high-end qualifications to progress my career. The Higher Apprenticeship combines both and is really the best of both worlds as far as I am concerned.
“Because I am earning money and JCB is sponsoring me to do the degree, it gave me the security I needed to move to Staffordshire and enrol on the programme. The whole experience so far has been fantastic."
During their apprenticeships the group benefited from on-the-job learning as JCB engineers. They also attended college once a week for classroom-based studies.
As well as their foundation degrees they also received an EAL NVQ level four diploma in mechanical engineering.
Catherine Bull, 21, of Shavington, near Crewe, who has also graduated, worked at the JCB World Parts Centre in Uttoxeter during her studies. She is now studying for a BEng degree at Sheffield Hallam University. She joined the JCB programme after completing her A-levels.
She said: “I really like the work-based learning because it gives you perfect hands-on experience. You have also got three years of earning under your belt, which puts you at an advantage compared to full-time university students."
JCB technical and professional development manager Miles Pixley said: “Many people prefer the Higher Apprenticeship route because it enables them to earn money while they are learning and not have loans they must then pay back when they earn a certain salary later in life.
"The opportunity to undertake real paid work while learning on the job and studying one day a week at college to achieve a foundation degree is a fantastic proposition for a school-leaver with good A-levels or a Level 3 apprenticeship. To then have the chance to go on to achieve a full bachelor of engineering degree is the icing on the cake."
The other five successful graduates are Todd Bradshaw, aged 21, of Uttoxeter; Jak Fuce, 21, of Uttoxeter; Sam Turner, 22, of Birmingham; David Layne, 21, of Uttoxeter; Robert Clark, 24, of Crewe, and Oliver Jones, of Uttoxeter.