Department of Physics, University of Oxford

The University of Oxford strongly supports apprenticeships and almost half its departments are home to at least one apprentice.

Department of Physics, University of Oxford
Image: Stannered/Wikimedia Commons


“When we have a job vacancy, we make an effort to consider whether it could be filled by an apprentice,” says Clive Shepherd, the university’s apprenticeship manager. “That way, we get a member of staff who does it our way, because we’ve trained them, and with the qualifications we need, because we’ve defined their training programme. At present, we are running 23 different types of apprenticeships and working with 14 different training providers in the Oxfordshire area, covering everything from administration and business skills to more technical areas.”

For those with an interest in physics, apprenticeships can be available in science and engineering departments. The Department of Physics, for example, recently took on three apprentices – one in the mechanical workshop, one in the electronics workshop and one in the new Oxford Physics Microstructure Laboratory (OPMD).

Oxford’s is one of the largest physics departments in the world, employing about 475 people and with an annual turnover of £33 m. There are more than 100 permanent academic staff plus almost 200 postdoctoral researchers and nearly 200 technical and support staff. Around 700 undergraduate students and 300 graduate students are studying in the department.

Alexander Knight is the first apprentice to work in OPMD, which was set up in January 2016 both to support work on the ATLAS particle physics experiment, which collides high-energy proton beams in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, and to enhance Oxford’s capability in the area of microelectronic detectors. He is an apprentice product and development technician and his three-year apprenticeship, which is spent partly in the department and partly at the Oxford Advanced Skills Centre at the Culham Science Centre, will lead to a level 3 NVQ.

“Alex spent his first few months working in our lab to integrate into the team and has taken on some small projects, and this is now being followed by both academic and hands-on training at the Culham Centre,” explains Richard Plackett, a silicon detector development scientist who works with Alex. “At the end of his time, he will be able to work independently on the majority of tasks related to our work assembling detectors for the Large Hadron Collider, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and a number of X-ray sensors for photon science. We’re hoping he will mainly be working on constructing the sensors for the upgrade of the ATLAS detector. This is a big project that Oxford is involved in and he will be part of the team actually putting things together.”

“From our point of view, the advantage of the apprenticeship is that we can train someone to fit our rather unique skills requirements,” Plackett adds. “From his point of view, he will get access to working with technologies that are significantly more advanced than most training placements and be involved in an exciting and challenging project involving cutting-edge research and a very wide range of activities”.