Inspiring the next generation of defence experts with BAE Systems

BAE Systems plans to recruit 700 new apprentices across its UK air, land and maritime businesses in 2019.  Talal Husseini takes a look at the company’s approach to apprenticeships and how they help to train the next generation of defence industry talent in the UK.

This year, BAE Systems is taking on 700 new apprentices, a 30% increase on last year’s recruitment numbers. Successful candidates will enter one of more than 30 training programmes across BAE’s UK air, land and maritime sectors, giving young people the opportunity to gain hands-on defence industry experience and, in some cases, study for a recognised engineering degree or qualification.

The company expects around half of apprentices will intern within its air business at Samlesbury and Warton, where they will assist teams working on the latest aircraft, including the Eurofighter Typhoon and the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter – the latter heralded as the world’s largest defence project.

Aside from the new apprentice intake this year, BAE’s newly opened £25m Academy for Skills and Knowledge at Barrow-in-Furness is also looking to take on 800 apprentices to work on the company’s submarine programmes for the Royal Navy.

BAE Systems employs around 2,000 apprentices across its business. We take a look at how they are training to become the defence industry experts of tomorrow.

BAE is taking on 700 new apprentices this year. Image: BAE Systems.

Training the next generation of defence professionals

BAE’s decision to increase the number of apprentices grabbed the attention of UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who took time out of negotiating Brexit to publicly commend the firm.

“I’m delighted that BAE Systems is taking on even more apprentices in 2019, with 700 young people being given the opportunity to kick-start their careers in this world-class firm,” May said in December last year. “Britain’s businesses have a hugely important role to play in training the next generation and themselves benefit by attracting diverse talent and improving their skills base. Through our modern Industrial Strategy we will encourage even more partnerships to create high-quality jobs across the UK.”

BAE’s apprenticeships, which can last up to four years, begin with intermediate and advanced categories that take on secondary school students from 16 years of age.

“Our apprenticeship programmes combine the opportunity to study with hands-on training, allowing our apprentices to get a great grounding in engineering and technology.”

There are also higher and degree-level apprenticeships, which typically lead to qualifications such as a Higher National Diploma, foundation degree, or even a full university degree in a variety of fields, including aerospace engineering, management, nuclear engineering, project management, software engineering and information management.

BAE Systems education and skills director Richard Hamer says: “Our apprenticeship programmes combine the opportunity to study with hands-on training, allowing our apprentices to get a great grounding in engineering and technology while learning about the practical applications and challenges.”

In the recruitment process, the candidate’s desire and interest in the defence company’s activities is more important than prior work experience for Hamer. However, there are minimum academic requirements that are used to help sort through applicants.

“Our apprentices are generally recruited directly from school or college so will not typically have prior work experience or the related skills,” he says. “What we do look at is their potential, behaviours and interest in our company and in their chosen area of work. We set - depending on the apprenticeship programme ‎- academic entry requirements, typically five GCSEs, including maths and English as a minimum.”

Some of the more technical apprenticeships require a candidate to have obtained a science GCSCE qualification but for many of the business-focussed roles, this is not a necessity.

BAE’s new £25m submarine facility will employ 800 apprentices. Image: BAE Systems

A range of opportunities

Apprenticeships at BAE Systems involve a range of routine manual tasks, such as painting, scaffolding, welding and metallurgy. But there are also jobs in administration and project management, which often require a completely different set of academic and communication skills.

Ahmed Munshi is a 22-year-old project management student and BAE apprentice in his penultimate year at Samlesbury.

“When I finished school, I was encouraged to follow a route into university however I wanted to gain a practical, hands-on experience while earning and studying for a degree,” Munshi said. “My apprenticeship experience has been at full speed from the beginning and really pushes me to exceed – both in my work placements and during my studies towards my degree.”

“We also have cyber apprenticeships in which apprentices are helping defend against increasing cyber threats.”

In addition to apprenticeships on aircraft and submarine projects, other tech-focussed opportunities in robotics and cyber security are also available. For outstanding candidates, there are also chances to prove their abilities in the form of a yearly global skills competition.

“Some exciting examples include working on the next-generation concept military aircraft or learning how to use new cobotic and robotic manufacturing systems,” Hamer says. “In our maritime business our apprentices are supporting the Royal Navy’s next generation of naval ships.

“We also have cyber apprenticeships in which apprentices are helping defend against increasing cyber threats. Our apprentices take part in the WorldSkills skills competition and we typically have finalists taking part in the national competition at WorldSkills UK in November each year.”

On 7 March 2019, BAE announced the winner of its annual internal Apprentice of the Year award, which was won by advanced manufacturing apprentice Luke Benson of the Samlesbury air facility.

Apprenticeships at BAE can lead to a number of qualifications, including university degrees. Image: BAE Systems

Securing a permanent role with BAE

Investing in education, skills and early career development is important to BAE, as demonstrated by the continued level of financial support. The firm injects some £90m in funding to support the activities of more than 2,000 apprentices each year.

The scheme is not just about giving young people a work experience opportunity, the relationship between company and apprentice is symbiotic in the sense that an overwhelming majority of apprentices go on to become one of the 35,000 full-time BAE employees in the UK.

“We have one of the highest apprenticeship completion rates in the country with [around] 95% of our apprentices completing their programme on time. Virtually all of those who complete the programme go on to secure a permanent role within the company,” says Hamer. “Our commitment to the career progression and development of our apprentices within our business is supported by the investment of close to £100k we make on each apprentice.”