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From left to right: Chris Lewis, University of Chester Apprentice Learning Mentor; Professor Steve Wilkinson, Head of Chemical Engineering at the University of Chester; Michael Leary, Unilever Degree Apprentice; Tom Gibbins, Unilever Advanced Manufacturin

The BEng in Chemical Engineering at the University’s Thornton Science Park is currently accredited by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) – which is working together with the University of Chester to ensure that the degree is accredited as part of the apprenticeship.

The new Science Industry Process / Plant Engineer degree apprenticeship has also been designed in consultation with major employers of chemical engineers in the North West. Unilever, the global consumer goods company, was the first employer in the UK to offer the apprenticeship.

This new degree apprenticeship has also been welcomed by the government’s Apprenticeships and Skills Minister, the Right Hon Anne Milton MP.

Michael Leary, who joined Unilever working in its Advanced Manufacturing Research and Development (R&D) Centre in Port Sunlight in October 2018, is the first to take part in this degree apprenticeship opportunity. While working as part of the pilot plant team, he is studying part time at the University of Chester for a BEng degree in Chemical Engineering. Michael, who has straight A grades in Maths, Chemistry and Biology A-levels, is paid by Unilever as a full-time employee during the apprenticeship, and, as with all degree apprenticeships, he does not pay any tuition fees.

“It’s a superb opportunity for me”, said Michael. “I’m busy but really happy to be learning in both the University and workplace environment. The principles I get from my University studies are reinforced with real-life experience at Unilever, where I work closely with process development engineers, R&D scientists and pilot plant technicians.”

Professor Steve Wilkinson, Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Chester, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for Michael and the other degree apprentices and it fits perfectly with the Faculty of Science and Engineering’s ethos at Thornton Science Park, where we work hard to ensure that we produce industry-ready graduates. Our Department is only five years old and already it has an excellent reputation, with accreditation from the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) achieved at the earliest opportunity. When we designed our courses from scratch in 2013, we built them around industrial input. Our partnership with Unilever is another great example of how we put our students first, ensuring that they get an understanding of what it means to be a professional engineer from day one.”

Tom Gibbins, AMC and Pilot Plants Manager at Unilever, said: “We’re delighted to have partnered with the University of Chester to offer the UK’s first chemical engineering degree apprenticeship and to be able to support Michael with the first step in his career. At Unilever we understand the huge benefit in supporting young future talent with their transition into work, and in the coming years we will be looking for more enthusiastic apprentices to join us in making a sustainable difference.”

Welcoming the news, Anne Milton, Apprenticeships and Skills Minister said: “I am thrilled that the University of Chester and major employers across the region are collaborating to promote STEM subjects and help increase the number of chemical engineers in the North West. Apprenticeships driven by employers, rely on the imagination of the FE and HE sector to collaborate and help business and industry get the skills they need. It’s great to see one of the first chemical engineering degree apprenticeships get off the ground.”

Bill Harper is Immediate Past Vice-President Qualifications at IChemE, and has spent the last two years working with the University of Chester on this particular apprenticeship model. He added: “The IChemE is delighted that the University of Chester has got the Process/Plant Engineer Degree Apprenticeship off the ground – and I look forward to working with the University to move this forward.”

Visit our degree apprenticeships page for more information about opportunities in Chemical Engineering.

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