Twins Amy and Jessica share their story as apprentices on different career paths

By Amy & Jessica McIlhatton

Jessica’s story…

Jessica McIlhattton, Civil Engineering Apprentice at AECOM

I’m learning so much every week

Jessica McIllhatton is a Civil Engineering Apprentice at AECOM. A former pupil of St Louis’ Grammar School in Ballymena, she explains why an apprenticeship is a ‘win, win’, gives her a unique advantage in her career and studies, and is the reason she was able to buy a Merc!

An apprenticeship suits me – I’m an on–the–job learner.

I learn much quicker doing things practically and so I thought I would be better doing an apprenticeship, which blends working and learning, rather than pursuing a pure academic route.

I’m a twin – my sister Amy and I both liked the sound of doing an apprenticeship. Our teacher at school recognised we were more geared towards blending work with education and suggested taking a look at apprenticeships through Workplus.

Having all the opportunities on one platform makes a real difference.

My twin sister and I both applied through Workplus. It’s brilliant to have all the opportunities on one platform – it definitely took the stress out of it, especially in my busy ‘A’ Level year. It was an easy process with a clear timeline.

I applied to multiple roles through one application. I was invited to attend 5 interviews and I did them all – it was great experience and helped build my confidence.

My advice – keep an open mind and go to every interview!

Originally, I thought I wanted to do software engineering, but I applied for a variety, including civil engineering. I attended an interview at AECOM, and it changed by perspective – I knew immediately it was my preference. I was so pleased when I was offered an apprenticeship with them.

I’m learning so much every week.

I’m now in the Dams and Reservoirs team at AECOM. I didn’t know anything when I started but am now proficient in CAD and other drawing and design tools. It’s one of my favourite aspects of the role and lets me see how much I’ve developed in such a short space of time.

I go on site a lot so I’m not always office based. I get the opportunity to go out and see my work being applied in real projects, so I feel I’m getting a rounded experience of projects. I also find university is easier because I can relate it to my job.

It’s also fun!

In my work, AECOM is very pro–active in supporting apprentices and giving them a positive experience. Last summer I was in the Lake District with all the AECOM apprentices across the UK. There were 100 of us at an outdoor pursuits centre, networking and having a great time. I’ve made connections with other apprentices across the UK so now my network stetches beyond Northern Ireland.

I feel really thankful – there’s so much support.

I look at people in full–time uni and feel thankful that I’m doing an apprenticeship. If I ever need help with anything, I ask my more experienced colleagues and it’s so helpful.

I’m part of a brilliant team who always give me the help I need. There’s no such thing as a stupid question in our team – we’re a close team and I get amazing support for my university course.

It’s a win–win for many reasons.

I think apprenticeships are a brilliant idea – I’m going into a job eager to learn, I’ll try any work and I love a challenge.

Whenever I graduate, I’ll have my degree and six years’ experience. It’s a win for me and a win for my employer. It’s very unique to the apprenticeship scheme.

Many of our friends are envious because we’re having the university experience and we’re working throughout the week. I get to enjoy my weekends and not worry about part–time jobs and student debt.

Getting paid is a real benefit!

Being an apprentice gives you great financial freedom. I was able to buy a new car – I upgraded my car to a Mercedes and my twin upgraded hers to a BMW.

I’m really proud of myself and feel thankful to be where I am.


Amy’s story…

Amy McIlhatton, Junior Software Engineer at Teamworks

Amy McIlhatton is a Junior Software Engineer with Teamworks. Her twin sister, Jessica, is also an apprentice. Amy explains why apprenticeships are advantageous for employers as well as apprentices.


When you live the benefits of being an apprentice every day, it’s hard not to be enthusiastic about apprenticeships!

When I was in sixth year at school in Ballymena, I knew I wanted to work and also continue my education so an apprenticeship enabled me to do just that.

The work is so interesting!

I’m now two years into my apprenticeship and if you had told me back in 2022 some of the projects I’d be working on, I wouldn’t have believed you! This time last year, I worked with two other apprentices and, together, we developed (with some guidance from senior colleagues) a full platform for customer service to use to monitor all the teams.

This week, I’m working on tickets for Team GB making the platform more specified to their needs.

At Teamworks, I’m treated like a colleague as well as a student. I work with such a lovely group of people. The atmosphere in work is so positive and affirming and, from the get–go, I got such a warm welcome to the team. They’re also really understanding and supportive when it comes to my academic studies.

You can still live the student life.

I’ve met friends for life at uni, including apprentices in other companies. I’ve been given so many opportunities to grow and develop, and it’s great to have the salary to go away on holidays and travel. I also splashed out on a BMW recently!

In first year, I lived with my friends, so I don’t feel I’m missing out on the full–time uni experience. On the contrary, I think I’m getting a richer experience as an apprentice. I’ll graduate when I’m 22, I’m getting the opportunity to work with an amazing company and I’m still able to enjoy uni life.

The employer benefits too!

I think more employers in Northern Ireland need to see the benefits of taking on an apprentice. My manager, Daniel, says that apprentices bring fresh eyes and fresh minds. He’s a real advocate for apprenticeships – the employer gets someone who has a good attitude and is keen to learn, and then they can mould them to exactly what the company needs.

If someone gave you a manual to learn how to drive a car, would you be able to drive a car? Probably not! Until you are actually in a job, it’s only when the learning clicks. I was invited to be on a panel at a business event and I used that analogy. It seemed to resonate with people, and I’ve used it ever since to explain why apprenticeships are so beneficial.

It’s great to have a streamlined platform

I found my apprenticeship through Workplus. I had the stress of A Levels so Worklplus meant I could submit one application and apply for multiple opportunities.

As a society, we need to wake up to apprenticeships!

I’d love to see the culture in schools change more and move away from the traditional message and expectation of ‘go to uni full time’. As a society, we need to wake up to how good apprenticeships are. I’d love to see more employers catch the vision for apprenticeships – I know so many people who would love the opportunity that I’ve been given. An apprenticeship is such a great way to continue your education in a way that’s supported and practical.


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