This week, businesses across the UK, including GE Aviation, celebrated National Apprenticeship Week. National Apprenticeship Week was created to raise awareness of apprenticeships and the positive impact they have on individuals, businesses and the wider community.

GE Aviation currently employs over 225 apprentices across 8 locations in the UK. With focus on developing the future pipeline of talent for the business, GE runs a range of apprenticeships from business administration to aircraft engineering. One of the longest standing apprenticeship programs is at the engine overhaul facility, GE Aviation Wales, situated in heart of the Welsh Valley. The apprenticeship program at the Nantgarw-based site began more than four decades ago. Today, the 20 engineering apprentice roles which become available annually are well sought after, with the business receiving more than 800 applicants each year. Competition to secure a spot is tough with only the top 2.5% securing a place on the three year program.

Jonny Elley, a 23 year old from South Wales secured an apprenticeship with GE Aviation Wales in 2014 and most recently was named EEF’s Outstanding First Year Apprentice of the Year in the UK.

Rugby picWhen you first meet Jonny it is clear why he is deserving of his most recent accolade. Having grown up just six miles north of the site, from a young age Jonny knew all about the engine overhaul facility from his father – who has been an Aircraft Engineer at the plant for the last 25 years. His ambitions from an early age were to represent his country in the sporting realm, playing rugby, which is considered among many as the national sport of Wales. Despite securing a place in a regional rugby academy, Jonny was released from his contract early and although disappointed that his career dreams had been dashed, he focused on finishing school and securing good grades.

When Jonny left school at the age of 18 he applied for the GE Aviation Wales apprenticeship program. However, his first attempt left him unsuccessful. Undeterred, he secured an apprenticeship with a local gas company, where he spent the next three years learning new skills and obtaining further qualifications. Despite securing a full time position with the company, he still firmly had his sights set on obtaining a place in the GE Aviation Wales apprenticeship program. In 2014, he made the bold decision to leave his job, and along with his new found skills, he reapplied for the program and secured a place.

Jonny spent the first year of his apprenticeship full-time at Coleg-Y-Cymoedd, a local college who GE has partnered with for nearly 40 years to support the training of its apprentices. With a 95% success rate, apprentices spend the first of their three years in college completing a range of qualifications including EAL’s Level 2 Performing Engineering Operations qualification, the first year of a Level 3 Diploma in Aerospace Engineering, six key skills at Level 3 and the first year of the Advanced Welsh Baccalaureate.

“Having worked so hard to secure an apprenticeship at GE and having given up a well-paid and permanent job, I didn’t want anything to jeopardize my place, including any rugby related injuries, so I made the decision to stop playing and concentrate fully on my studies. It was a tough decision but I knew it was the right one.”

Jonny’s decision paid off and in his first year he achieved a distinction in all areas of his studies, the highest grade possible.

Now in his second year, Jonny spends four days at the site learning the skills required for engine overhaul and attends college one day a week to continue his studies. He is currently working in the component repair section of the business, learning about repairs on engine modules and components. By the time he has completed his apprenticeship in the summer of 2017, Jonny will have spent time across all 33 sections of the shop, learning and gaining experience across the entire engine overhaul process.

Shop floor1

His efforts and commitment to his apprenticeship have not gone unrecognized. At the end of 2015, Jonny was nominated by the business and the local college for the Engineering Employers’ Federation (EEF) Outstanding First Year Apprentice Award. He won the regional award in Wales and earlier this year went on to win the UK title at the national ceremony in London.

“I’m ecstatic to be named Outstanding First Year Apprentice of the Year UK,” said Jonny. “It’s an incredible feeling to be recognized in this way for something I genuinely enjoy and have a passion for.”

Jonny is keen on encouraging even more young people to consider a career in engineering. He regularly participates in GE’s educational programs with local schools, helping to educate young people on the importance of STEM related subjects and why apprenticeships are a positive alternative to the traditional university route.

“I feel privileged to be able to share my story with young people. I want to show people that apprenticeships are a viable alternative to higher education,” said Jonny. “As a youngster I had my heart set on playing rugby for Wales, and although this dream didn’t go quite to plan, I have no regrets in hanging up my boots to focus on career ambitions of becoming an Aircraft Engineer and being able to work on engines of tomorrow. I hope my success encourages young people to consider applying for an apprenticeship.”