Engineering Apprenticeships at Pye of Cambridge Ltd

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In the mid 1950s the Pye factory in Haig Road (now Elizabeth Way), Cambridge employed around 100 young men participating in electrical or mechanical five-year apprenticeships. The apprentices generally started at age 16 with some passes at “O” level General Certificate of Education and were indentured to the company. The indenture took the form of a formal written agreement signed by both the apprentice and the company and bound the apprentice to work for the company for a full five years without leaving their employment or going on strike. The company on its part undertook to pay the apprentice and provide both work experience and college education for as long as the apprentice continued passing annual examinations. Failure in the examinations resulted in the apprentice having to work full-time with only the work experience content of the agreement until completion of the five years.

Typical pay for a first year apprentice between 1955 and 1959 was around two pounds five shillings (£2.25) for a 44-hour week (8am to 6pm Monday to Thursday and finishing at 5pm on Fridays). Special ‘clocking in’ clocks were used to record arrival and departure time with penalties of 15 minutes deduction of pay for clocking in late at any time – even one minute - after the correct starting time. Many apprentices needed a state subsistence allowance in the early years since lodging (digs) typically cost about two pounds ten shillings a week. Nearly all apprentices were living away from their home town.

Initially apprentices typically spent 3 to 4 months working on production lines producing components for radios and TV’s such as transformers, deflection coils, printed circuit boards, 13 channel tuners and various other sub-assemblies. These departments predominately employed women between 16 and 60 years old, many of whom were bussed daily to the factory from the surrounding Cambridgeshire villages. Further time was spent in the machine shop operating power presses, fly presses, and capstan lathes. Some apprentices spent time in the toolroom, others in the maintenance department helping senior engineers maintain the plant and equipment throughout the factory. In the later stages of their apprenticeship, apprentices might spend six months to a year in research departments, the ‘model shop’, the drawing office or at other Pye facilities which allowed or encouraged original thought. The Pye "Service Centre" in Cambridge as well as Centres in Glasgow and Edinburgh also provided hands on expericence with the help of experienced technicians.

Apprentices attended the Cambridgeshire Technical College and School of Art (later Cambridge College of Arts and Technology and now Ruskin Anglia University) for one day and one evening a week during term time to study engineering. Study was for City and Guilds Examinations or Ordinary National Certificate followed by Higher National Certificate in electrical or mechanical engineering. Some apprentices managed to voluntarily attend college for extra evenings to study complementary courses, typically radio and TV servicing or Telecommunications. Further study led some apprentices on to become members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and Institute of Measurement and Control.

The apprentices were members of the Association of Pye Limited Apprentices (APLA) Association which arranged weekend educational visits to the Radio Show at Earls Court, the National Physical Laboratory and other educational venues. On the lighter side they also organized a number of ball room dances in Cambridge and some very popular events featuring the Jazz Bands of Chris Barber and Acker Bilk who were in their heyday at that time. In 1959 they participated in the annual Poppy Day collection running a flat-bed lorry (truck) around Cambridge with a closed circuit camera and multiple monitor hook-up.

Pye also employed a smaller number of Graduate Apprentices who usually were at least 18 years old and had some A level Certificates. These apprentices typically started in a research department.

Around 1960 Pye apprentices started participating in newly offered Sandwich Courses at the College of Arts and Technology (CAT). Apprentices spent six months at the CAT and then six months working at Pye Cambridge Works Limited. After three years a Higher National Diploma was awarded. Later a fourth year was added which qualified participants for the entry requirements for the Institution of Electrical Engineers (I.E.E. now the I.E.T.). Many apprentices continued with extra studies to later become a Chartered Engineer (UK) with full membership of their appropriate Institute.


History of Anglia Ruskin University

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