BAE Systems engineering apprentices inspired by the industry

4 mins read

To mark National Engineering Day yesterday (1 November), we spoke with two budding Engineering apprentices at BAE Systems to hear more about their career in engineering to date.

  • Have you always been interested in engineering?

Beth Campbell, engineering technician apprentice: “I had always wanted to be a doctor, nurse, or radiologist, but when I did work experience at BAE Systems I quickly decided engineering was what I want to do. I heard a fantastic talk from a girl called Lauren, she inspired me to want to become an engineer. Both of my Grandads also had engineering backgrounds, and one of which still works for BAE to this day, so my family definitely had an influence on my decision.”

Wing Leung, test engineer apprentice: “I’d always enjoyed building things and have been building computers since a very young age so I always knew that I would love to transition those interests and skills into a career. I was very lucky to get the chance to do electronics at GCSE and A-Level too, which really solidified my passion.

"I’m also a Scout leader in my spare time, and our group is recognised by the Royal Navy. My active involvement led me to recognise the extent of work that BAE do as a company, which led me to where I am today! In 2010 I actually went to an air festival in Bournemouth and remember seeing a great poster, with images of all the ships in the fleet, carrying a slogan ‘Built by BAE’. That poster inspired me, and I still have it to this day, 12 years later."

  • Why did you go down the Engineering apprenticeship route?

Beth: “I really enjoyed my work experience with BAE Systems. I liked the idea of working and learning at the same time – applying what I learned when studying into a practical environment at work really appealed to me. I also couldn’t imagine doing maths classes online during COVID-19, so I applied for the apprenticeship, which offers me both a college HND and work experience at the end of it, as well as the option to pursue university after the apprenticeship if I wish to continue my studies. It’s the best of both worlds.

"While getting a salary was not my sole reason for applying, it is another great benefit!”

Wing: “I never really liked the idea of university. My dad was also an apprentice, so I always knew how viable that was as a post-school option. I wanted to instantly get into a career – one that was stable with good long-term prospects.

"All my friends are in university, and their days just seem so different compared to mine. I know that they’re really concerned about debt, so I feel lucky to be in a position where I’m already earning.”

  • What does a typical day as an engineer look like?

Beth: “No day is the same! I love the variety of work you get to do. One day you can be doing spreadsheets and the next you can be on a ship. New challenges can arise at a moment’s notice too. Just the other day we had a problem on a ship, where there was not enough space to support the welding of a pipe, so we had to move the pipe to create space for the welder to get to it.

"There is also opportunity to not just work on the T26 project in the UK, but also the export contracts for the Hunter Class Frigate in Australia and the Canadian Surface Combatant in Canada. During my apprenticeship I have had exposure to both of these contracts and I am now currently doing a yearlong placement on the HCF project."

Wing: “As a test engineer, my job is to make sure that the products we build or are repairing are functional and able to withstand a variety of conditions such as thermal, pressure and high voltage ranges. Some days can be as simple as putting units through an automated test site, whereas on others I have to do point to point diagnosing with a multimeter through multiple circuit layers. No two days are ever really the same.”

  • What do you love most about working in this sector?

Beth: “Becoming an engineer is the best thing I have ever done, and I love the way in which I was trusted from day one. I don’t think many people, especially at my age could say they helped build a type 26 warship. I’ve helped on that project for 2 years now and during that time I’ve managed to help out across a variety of departments to learn about how they operate, so I’m proud of myself.”

"The range of opportunities and quality of connections you make from BAE’s engineering community is great. I’ve really enjoyed talking to other women and young people and trying to get them into STEM, too.”

Wing: “For me it’s definitely being able to see how things work. Some days I will find that I need to test a cable, only to find that it is the cable that provides control over the propulsion for an autonomous mine disposal solution, which I find to be really interesting and perhaps a little bit daunting to be responsible for. But it’s absolutely worth it.

"Additionally, I’m part of a really great class of apprentices; we all support each other and have become a close network of friends – we have regular social events out of work. As well as regular check-ins and reviews, BAE also makes sure they look after us socially – they recently took us on an outing to the Mary Rose museum."

  • Any advice you have for other budding engineers?

Beth: “My advice would be to consider the apprenticeship route. I always thought apprentices just fetched tea or coffee but you are always assigned great tasks that allow you to learn and grow as a person. Go ahead and apply, know your stuff about the company, make sure you’ve got all the qualifications, and that it’s what you want to do.”

Wing: “Any passion you have, make sure it comes through when applying for any engineering role. Whether it’s extra curriculars or outstanding work from school, make sure you highlight it. For example, I did electronics at school and was part of the F24 Greenpower electric go kart racing team, which I made sure to highlight. Alongside my work with the Scouts, I also completed all of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards – all of these achievements make you stand out as a candidate.

"Also make sure to ask questions and network during the interview process. I met some great individuals throughout the process, including some former apprentices, so I made sure to get to know them and ask about how they felt about working for BAE and in the sector generally.”