As one who has spent his working life in engineering in Derby and the county, I have seen and experienced the benefits of apprenticeships and watched their fluctuation in popularity with interest. Engineering has, of course, been a major influence in the economic growth of the city and surrounding towns. A centre of the railway boom in the 19th century, that led to the rapid expansion of other engineering companies in the area to support the railways and, subsequently, Rolls-Royce. Both are still major players in the economy of the city and apprenticeships are still vital in passing on hard-earned knowledge and craftsmanship skills to each new generation.

Given the heavy, manual nature of much of the work it is no surprise to understand that engineering has always been dominated by the male gender. I have no doubt that will always be the case, but in recent years there have been more girls looking for a career in engineering. Flying the flag for the girls is British engineer Leena Gade who became the first female race engineer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, guiding Audi to success in 2012. A survey that showed 5% of engineering apprentices in 2002 were female indicates that this number has now fallen to just 4%, so it is refreshing and encouraging to see that one Derbyshire company is bucking that trend.


Cullum Detuners apprentices

Apprentices Rebecca Heathcote and Megan Randle with HR Manager Chrissie Symons (second left) and former apprentice Nicola Stapleton (right)

The apprentice scheme at Cullum Detuners, in Heanor, has brought many local youngsters into the business and is now championing local female engineering talent. With their first female apprentice having graduated, the current pool of four apprentices is 50% female.

“It’s fantastic to have a bit more balance and to see the girls’ careers develop with us,” says Human Resources Manager Chrissie Symons. “ It gives us a different dynamic as well. It challenges the guys on the shop floor because they have to think a little bit wider and a bit more culturally. That’s healthy for them and also the office team.”

As world leaders in the field of acoustic engineering Cullum relocated to Heanor 40 years ago to be close to one of their key customers, Rolls-Royce. Over many years Cullum have forged strong links with local schools which continues to pay dividends.

Cullum Detuners, apprentices, Nicola Stapleton

Nicola Stapleton is now established in her production and planning role

Nicola Stapleton, now 22, began her Cullum apprenticeship in 2012 after leaving 6th Form at Aldercar School, but the link had been established long before. “I was 15, in 2010, when I came for a week of work experience,” says Nicola. “I went on the shop floor to get a feel for it and was offered the opportunity to work the six weeks school holiday and began my apprenticeship the following year.”

At the time Nicola was studying a Level 3 NVQ in Engineering and Technology at school, another important factor in developing the awareness of engineering in youngsters at school, although her own interest had begun closer to home. “I was more interested in mechanics, working with my dad down the yard and fixing cars, but that opportunity wasn’t available at the time I started taking my GCSEs. I moved sideways into engineering, picked up welding, enjoyed that and it continued to where I am now.”

This was also a new experience for the male workforce on the shop floor. “The guys were very helpful,” Nicola added, “willing to share their knowledge and experience and give me a full understanding of what they do on the shop floor and of what we produce. They were very welcoming, they took me under their wings to help me progress. I’m very grateful for how they acted towards me. It can be quite scary when you first walk in there.”

Cullum Detuners, apprentices, Megan Randle

Megan Randle is enjoying the new experiences on her tour of the company offices

While Nicola was coming to terms with her new environment, Megan Randle was being introduced to engineering at Eastwood Comprehensive. “Before I began GCSEs they started their engineering programme,” says Megan. “Mid-way through Year 9 I was in a group of students to go on a STEM day with the Smallpiece Trust. We were chosen from maths and science groups, boys and girls, anyone who showed some aptitude in that area. I won a three-day scholarship to Nottingham Trent University working with Rolls-Royce and Jaguar. It was a really enjoyed experience, so I took it as an option at Year 9, instead of a GCSE, to do a Level 2 B-Tec. I also stayed on at Eastwood and did my Level 3 B-Tec Engineering.”

In the summer of 2013, Megan followed up an advert in the paper for an open day visit and recruitment drive at Cullum. “I came here on work experience and asked about apprenticeships and what they offered. I was invited back for more work experience in the October half-term and then came as an apprentice in June 2014 after A-Levels.”

As with Nicola, Megan, now 20, came from a family of girls although both her grandfathers had worked at Rolls-Royce during the war.

After time on the shop floor, Nicola moved into the company offices, making way for Megan, and learning a variety of office-based engineering skills. “I was offered the chance to work in the production and planning office and then progressed through the tour of different departments before returning to the production office, getting more involved with 3D CAD and producing paperwork for the shop floor, breaking down the computer models.”

Nicola completed her apprenticeship in the production office and was offered a permanent post. She is also currently studying an engineering HND course. “I hope to progress on to the degree course, whist working within the production department, and absorb as much knowledge  and experience as I can from the guys. I’d like to progress through the production department up to manager status and see where it goes from there.”

Cullum Detuners, apprentices, Rebecca Heathcote, Andy Bown

Engineer Andy Bown helps Rebecca Heathcote to learn new factory skills

Now that Megan has moved onto the office tour, her factory place has been filled by 17-year old Rebecca Heathcote. “I’ve just stared my second year of the shop floor tour in September. I studied at Heanor Gate Science College and did engineering at Aldercar School as well because they offered an EAL Level 2 programme and resistant materials as a GCSE, which is where my interest began.”

Rebecca was also involved with an after-school STEM club, an engineering club just for girls. “There was quite a lot of interest in that and they also offered an outward bound course. That was limited to five places so we had to put a profile together explaining why we wanted to do it and what our interest was. We spent five days in Wales, walking, camping and team building exercises. It was really good.”

Not knowing quite what she wanted to do, Rebecca met Chrissie on one of her visits to Heanor Gate School. “I was going to apply for work experience, but we talked about it and I decided to go for the apprenticeship. It sounded a good idea, I was really interested and began in 2015. I’m now doing my B-Tec Level 3 Engineering at Learning Unlimited, Derby, a branch of Chesterfield College.

“The workshop experience is really good and they want to get you through everything and show you everything. They were really supportive and welcomed me into the team.”

Cullum Detuners, apprentices

Chrissie Symons with apprentices James Taylor, Ben Holt, Rebecca Heathcote and Megan Randle and former apprentice Nicola Stapleton

Meanwhile, Megan is now on her tour of the offices. “I’ve done my two years on the shop floor and the production department and have just started my tour. I’ve been in the drawing office, design and I’m now in technical publications. Everything’s so different, but I’m really enjoying it. You walk in not knowing what to expect, I’ve never experienced any of the departments before, so it’s always a flood of information.” Megan is also studying for her HNC in engineering at Learning Unlimited, Derby.

As the younger girls progress, they will be hoping to follow Nicola onto the staff at Cullum. HR manager Chrissie Symons says the company works closely with their apprentices to see where their future lies. “We recruit into available positions. We look where there may be a position with the senior managers and present them to the student and who could apply for a position and then go through the interview process. It won’t be long now until we are looking at a position for Megan.

“Cullum continue to look ahead with technical apprentices who are targeted for university, but we are also looking at more craft apprentices aimed at the shop floor with a different skill set, more practically-based. That’s important because we also want to be investing in the future of our shop floor. We will also look to recruit for the admin side, give them the tour but with a view to a posting in HR, procurement or quality, those different roles as well.

We hope to reach out to youngsters in the local area. We get a lot of applications, particularly when we go out to schools and do the career cafes. It seems to be increasing that people are choosing engineering as a subject, partly because of the success of the girls here. They are seen as role models.”

Career information for Cullum Detuners, including apprenticeships, is available on their website at