Apprenticeship champions scoop awards for excellence

Avionics expert Katherine Jennings has been singled out as the Navy’s ultimate apprentice. The leading hand was one of 17 men and women – all in the early stages of their careers – making the most of the apprenticeships offered to them.

They all received their awards on board HMS Victory in Portsmouth from, the then, Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral Tony Radakin during the 12th annual National Apprenticeship Week.

Leading Air Engineering Technician Katherine Jennings was named the ‘apprenticeship champion’ of the past 12 months. She’s an avionics specialist working on the Merlin Mk2s of 824 Naval Air Squadron, which trains air and fellow ground crew in operating and maintaining the world’s most advanced submarine-hunting helicopter.

The apprenticeship award goes in an increasingly bulging trophy cabinet: Katherine was named best student in her class at HMS Sultan, the home of naval engineering, and picked up a gold award at last autumn’s World Skills competition at Birmingham’s NEC.

She used to fix equipment in McDonald’s until she saw the RN’s recruiting advert suggesting if you can fix a bike, you can fix a helicopter... and promptly signed up.

LAET Jennings inspects a Merlin Helicopter.

Leading Air Engineering Technician Katherine Jennings

I feel very proud and happy about receiving this award. I was just doing my job and it is nice to be recognised for it.

The leading hand is now four years into her career as a Fleet Air Arm engineer… and doesn’t for one minute regret swapping burgers for rotors.

“I really do enjoy my job – it is the best job that I have had. There are different experiences each and every day.

"The people who I work with also help to make the job enjoyable.

“I feel very proud and happy about receiving this award. I was just doing my job and it is nice to be recognised for it.”

She’s not the only engineer from Culdrose to leave Nelson’s flagship with a trophy, for Survival Equipment Technician Jacob Travers was named the aviation branch’s No.1 apprentice.

Jacob joined the Navy as a warfare specialist before deciding to switch careers and become a Survival Equipment Technician, responsible for maintaining the kit which keeps aircrew and passengers safe in the air or in water/on the ground in the event of an emergency landing.

After six months at HMS Sultan, he completed his aeronautical engineering apprenticeship with 736 Naval Air Squadron – Hawk fast-jet trainers – responsible for items such as helmets.

“It is a great achievement winning out of the whole Fleet Air Arm – I know it is a strong category with strong contenders,” said 29-year-old Jacob from Plymouth.

“Even though we are such a small branch of 170 personnel, I believe – and know – that as Survival Equipment Technicians we are a vital component to the capability of the Fleet Air Arm and pack a big punch.

“And working with great, like-minded colleagues while gaining qualifications makes work life easy.”

Other winners at the awards were:

  • Royal Marine Apprentice of the Year: Marine Christopher Silcock
  • Logistics Branch Apprentice of the Year: Logistician (Supply Chain) Hayley Emanuel
  • Engineering Branch Apprentice of the Year: Leading Engineering Technician (Weapon Engineer) Jake Lundon
  • Warfare Branch Apprentice of the Year: Leading Seaman(WS) Zoe Nicholson
  • Advanced Apprenticeship Award: Leading Engineering Technician (Weapon Engineer) Gavin Maidment
  • Higher Apprenticeship Award: Sub Lieutenant Gavin Lewis
  • Royal Fleet Auxillary Apprentice of the Year: Steward Lucy Davis
  • Apprenticeship Personal Achievement: Engineering Technician (Weapon Engineer Submariner) Macauley Wadsworth
  • Personal Achievement Award: Marine Oliver Wardman