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How Thomas and the University of Sunderland is helping fill the skills gap

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Published on 30 November 2018

Thomas Gilling
Thomas Gilling

Apprentices from the University of Sunderland are playing a pivotal role in helping fill a skills shortage across the North East.

There are currently 19 apprentices from the University working for 11 different companies across the area.

They are bringing their multitude of skills to the automobile industry, the medical profession and, among others, yellow goods companies like Caterpillar and Komatsu.

Dave Knapton, Principal Lecturer and the Engineering Academic Team Leader within the Faculty of Technology at the University, said: “Here at the University we have the opportunity to take apprentices, already working for some of the region’s biggest companies, and fast-track them.

“As they spend time with us they increase in their capability and aptitude, As a result, the companies our apprentices work for also benefit.

“Among other things, there is a massive shortage of engineers out there so there is a real need to fill this skills gap.”

One of those helping fill that gap is Thomas Gilling, 20, from Wingate, in County Durham. Thomas has worked at Caterpillar Ltd in Peterlee as an apprentice since he was just 16 years old.

He has been studying his Higher National Certificate (HNC) at Hartlepool College of Further Education for the past two years and has just enrolled at the University of Sunderland in order to complete his degree in Electrical Engineering.

Thomas, a former pupil at Shotton Hall School, left school at 16 to take up an apprenticeship with the County Durham-based company.


He said: “Even from being very young it was my target to work for Caterpillar, it was just something I wanted to do.

“For the first year of my apprenticeship I was in fulltime study at college.

“Now, I come into the University of Sunderland one day a week which I’m really enjoying doing. It’s interesting because I’m not used to being so independent so it’s nice to have that freedom a student has every Friday.”

Thomas says that, despite only being at the University for a few weeks, he has already learnt a lot.

He added: “It works so well because a lot of the things I’m learning I can take back with me to Caterpillar and start applying them straight away, so the company benefits. Equally, I can bring into university the ideas and work practices I’m using each day in my job. It’s a win-win situation.”

Through apprenticeship programmes the University helps students integrate academic study with practical experience in the workplace which can then lead to a Higher Education certificate, diploma or degree.

Greg Robson, Learning & Development Manager at Caterpillar, said: “Caterpillar Peterlee have had a long-standing partnership with the University of Sunderland and we are delighted to now be working with the Faculty of Technology where two of our employees have enrolled to study a BEng Engineering Practice Apprenticeship Degree.

“The support received by the University is consistently outstanding and we look forward to continuing to work with the University of Sunderland in supporting our employee’s development through higher education.”