WHILE his friends have spent the past few years partying and running up debt at university, 22-year-old Dominic Callaghan has been carving out a career in engineering.
Fresh from a four-year apprenticeship with Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, he has landed a full-time job in its materials research lab.
The former pupil of St Birinus School in Didcot, from Cholsey, joined the nuclear fusion centre straight after taking his A-Levels.
He said: “I looked at university but wanted more of a mix between practical and theoretical learning and didn’t want to be mainly classroom based.
“It’s very hands-on but you need the academic bit too, because if you are designing a piece of kit or a machine, you need the maths behind it to know how it is going to work.
“University is a completely different lifestyle but this suits me perfectly, because I feel a lot more secure.
“Many of my friends haven’t got a career path yet but they have had a lot of expense.”
For its work with Dominic and others like him, Culham has been shortlisted for the regional final of this year’s National Apprenticeship Awards and plans to boost the intake from five to eight new recruits a year.
But although the Government has heavily promoted this option since it came to power four years ago, Culham is not jumping on a bandwagon.
It launched the four-year apprenticeship scheme nine years ago and since then, has taken on almost 40 young people, including 19 working their way through the system at the moment.
All 18 who have graduated so far are still working at Culham.
One day a week, recruits go to Abingdon & Witney or Newbury colleges and work towards an HNC, HND or even a degree.
On the other days they work in different departments of the centre, ending with a final, one-year placement.
Not surprisingly, there is fierce competition, with 350 applications for each place.
Jaimee Dawson, 21, from Abingdon, is in her third year.
The former John Mason School pupil said: “My school was quite pro-university, but that wasn’t for me.
“My school head of year was surprised when I applied to Culham but my family were supportive, because they understood the value of the apprenticeship.
“My friends went to university and that was the right choice for them, but they are in quite a lot of debt.”
Stephen Hall, who runs the apprenticeship programme, explained: “We experienced a lot of difficulty recruiting the right people with the right skills, so decided to grow our own talent.
“Parents come in, meet the high-calibre individuals who are our apprentices and want their children to aspire to the same thing.
“From our point of view, it is an investment, in that staff who train apprentices get job satisfaction from passing on their experience and skills.
“Our apprentices bring enthusiasm, vibrancy and challenge the old ways of doing things, so there are many positives to having them around.”