If someone had told me a year ago that I'd be swapping roles with the Skills Minister, speaking with the Deputy Prime Minister and meeting the Queen at the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering I'd have laughed at them. But those are just some of the things I've done in 2013 and what a great year it has been for me. I have met so many people this year, from employers, to apprentices to politicians, and all of them have showed enthusiasm and passion towards Apprenticeships which is really refreshing to see.
It's nearly a year since I was announced as City & Guild's National Apprenticeship Champion, and what a year it's been. Public speaking is definitely a new skill of mine and I have enjoyed every minute of it.
Last week, I completed my job swap with the Skills Minister, Matthew Hancock MP, by showing him where I work at our BAE Systems Military Air & Information site at Warton in Lancashire. I took him on the journey of life as an apprentice, showing him where I began, the skills I learnt and where I completed, three and a half years later. The Minister was fascinated about the skills I now have, and how transferable they were to live aircraft. He was taken on a tour of our fantastic apprentice training facility in Preston, before completing his visit in my previous place of work, as a mechanical manufacturing engineer on the Typhoon Final Assembly line.
It was great to see the Minister switch out of a suit and into overalls and get stuck into some of the practical tasks that an apprentice with BAE Systems would experience as part of their early training.
The realisation from the Minister that all the company's engineering apprentices spend their first year of their Apprenticeship, at the BAE Systems training school in Preston learning the aeronautical engineering techniques needed for building aircraft such as the Typhoon and Hawk at BAE Systems Warton site; I am sure helped to confirm his understanding that Apprenticeships involve demanding (but ultimately very rewarding) work. Apprentices have high quality standards to adhere to, none more so than in the aeronautical manufacturing engineering industry.
After being hands-on in the training centre, I then took the Minister to see where BAE Systems complete the final assembly and testing of Typhoon aircraft and where I spent the final year of my Advanced Aeronautical Engineering Apprenticeship.
As part of the job swap and visit, I was able to introduce the Minister to past and present apprentices at BAE Systems including Managing Director of Military Air and Information Chris Boardman who started as an apprentice in 1979. It's great to be able to show that the sky really is the limit at BAE Systems.
I felt proud to show him what I had achieved and really highlight the support I have received throughout from BAE Systems, and the continuous support I am still receiving by the business to ensure my career is everything I want it to be.
This was the second part of my job swap. Earlier in the year I tried my hand at politics as Skills Minister for a day.
One of the most positive things I shall take away from being the National Apprenticeship Champion, is the drive and commitment everyone has shown for Apprenticeships. I believe the perception behind them is starting to change; Apprenticeships are now being recognised as a viable option to start a career, in addition to that of university. There are many people like myself who are passionate about Apprenticeships, and it's those people who are really spreading the word and helping more young people consider them as an option.
If you are interested in finding out more about an Apprenticeship then check out www.apprenticeships.org.uk and to find out how you too could follow in my footsteps at BAE Systems check out www.baesystems.com/apprentices or follow us @BAESystemsAir.
And I hear the voting has opened for the new National Apprenticeship Champion of the Year. I don't anticipate stopping my passion and promotion of Apprenticeships when I step down from the title and I wish the ten finalists the best of luck in showing their skills as Leading Apprenticeship Ambassadors - if they realised just how exciting my year as a champion has been, I think they'd all be working even harder to try to win!
So give them a helping hand and click here to vote for your local Apprenticeship Champion.