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Kim Hardman

Director UK Apprenticeships, AstraZeneca

The traditional way to kickstart a science career is via university study. However, apprenticeships offer degree and master’s level education alongside workplace experience.

From Kim Hardman’s perspective, apprenticeships are an increasingly popular career pathway. And she should know. As Director UK Apprenticeships at global biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, she sees apprenticeship applications from school-leavers, graduates and even existing members of staff.

AstraZeneca offers in excess of 35 different apprenticeships at all levels and in a range of roles across the business, including early-stage science and discovery, technology and engineering. “That variety creates massive opportunity,” says Hardman. “A lot of people still equate apprenticeships with certain jobs. They look agog when I tell them about the array of training options currently available.”

Predominantly, the company’s apprentices come straight from sixth form or college and work while studying for qualifications which (depending on the level) may include a degree. Then there are graduates on Level 7 apprenticeships, which are master’s degree equivalent programmes. Meanwhile, some company employees take apprenticeships as a way of upskilling and advancing their careers.

How apprenticeships increase workforce diversity

Traditionally, if you wanted to work in a scientific field, you might go to university, get a degree and maybe go on to study for a master’s or PhD. Apprenticeships are a challenge to that stereotype — while, for good measure, increasing workforce diversity and enabling social mobility. “Not everyone wants to go to university after sixth form,” says Hardman. “Plus, for some students, there’s a financial consideration to bear in mind. “In that case, they may decide that an apprenticeship — the chance to earn and learn — is a better option,” she notes.

That’s good for a company such as AstraZeneca, because the fact is that school or college-leavers often make just as outstanding employees as those choosing a more traditional route into science. “They have a diversity of thought,” says Hardman. “They’re not hierarchical and they’re not afraid to say to their line managers: ‘Why are you doing things that way? Here’s how you can do it better.’ Typically, they have more of a digital mindset. So, as an employer, we get as much from our apprentices as they get from us.”

As an employer, we get as much from our apprentices as they get from us.

Working in a team while completing degree-level study

Of course, postgraduate students may possess strong scientific expertise that apprentices have yet to acquire. However, those with a university education won’t necessarily be equipped with workplace experience. “For example, students at university don’t work in laboratories all the time,” says Hardman. “So when they join us as graduates, we have to teach them lab skills. Yet some of our apprentices who join us after their A Levels go into our labs from day one to work on life-saving medicines. They’re involved in real-life projects at the same time as working towards their degree. It’s a boost for them.”

It’s also a boost for the business, notes Hardman. “Apprentices could be working with award-winning scientists and using the latest technology. Plus, they’re often given science projects that we have not yet been able to develop because our long-established workforce has other priorities. That’s a really exciting opportunity for the apprentices — and for us, as a business.”

The biggest mistake that anyone can make is thinking that an apprenticeship is an easy option, warns Hardman. It’s anything but. “We say to those coming for an apprenticeship interview: ‘You’re not choosing a simple route, here. You’ll be typically working four days a week in a team, and we’ll expect you to deliver in that role. At the same time, you’ll also be studying one day a week for a qualification.’ Yet we know that apprenticeships are so rewarding — and a way for people to thrive in their careers.”

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