It is a myth that apprenticeships equal greasy hands and limited horizons. ROSALIND AZOUZI, RAeS Careers and Education Manager, provides an overview of the modern aerospace and aviation apprentice scene.

This is a full article published in AEROSPACE: August 2013 [caption id="attachment_8455" align="alignnone" width="375"] Apprenticeships can get you on a flightpath to success. (Airbus)[/caption]

While, for many, apprenticeships have been the backbone of the UK engineering sector it is only recently that changes in Government policy, including increases in university tuition fees and renewed support for apprenticeship training, have driven both employers and young people to look at alternative career pathways. The pendulum appears to be swinging firmly back in favour of apprenticeships. Aerospace and aviation employers are also increasingly offering apprenticeships in other parts of their business and the recent announcement of the Higher Apprenticeship in Professional Pilot Practice takes apprentice training to the skies and demonstrates the increasingly important role apprentices will play in the future of the aerospace industry.

However, are schools aware of the opportunities on offer and do apprenticeships suffer a reputation as a low-aspiration career choice among those who influence young people’s career decisions? And what is the role of professional bodies in recognising and supporting apprenticeship providers and apprentices and promoting apprenticeships to young people?

Engineering the skills chain

At the top end of the supply chain, BAE Systems is an example of a UK prime investing heavily in training. Richard Hamer, Director of Education & Head of Early Career Programmes, estimates that BAE Systems’ investment in education and skills in 2012 was: "£80m which includes the combined development and salary costs of their apprentices and graduates." He also says: "Presently, the return on investment between graduate schemes and apprentice schemes is fairly similar but we are watching carefully the impact of tuition fees on graduates, particularly in engineering and science disciplines. Clearly, long term, if there are insufficient numbers of quality graduates in the subject areas we need, then we are likely to invest more in areas such as Higher Apprenticeships.

Investment in skills and our future workforce is a core part of our UK business strategy. This is exemplified by our Group Managing Director, Nigel Whitehead who is a Skills Commissioner for UKCES. We have also published our ten-year Skills 2020 strategy to demonstrate this long-term commitment."

At Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group, apprenticeships have underpinned the company which has run an unbroken apprenticeship programme since the 1920s. According to Rob Butler, Manager of AeroAcademy: "The scheme is seen as the jewel in the crown" at a company known both for providing high standards of aircraft maintenance and aerospace design expertise. Butler adds: "The scheme has the full support of the Marshall family who recognise what apprenticeships deliver to the business both now and in the future."

Marshall ADG runs Craft and Design Apprenticeships with many apprentices going on to complete an Honours degree and gain Chartered status." So, says Butler: "There is the full career path available to them." He believes this also helps reduce attrition levels as many apprentices stay on with the firm and go into senior management.

Airlines are also an important link in the engineering skills supply chain. British Airways Engineering re-introduced its Apprenticeship programme three years ago and now recruit 100 aircraft engineering apprentices annually as well as investing a further £70m into their engineering facilities at Heathrow, which includes A380 and 787 capability. Monarch Aircraft Engineering Limited (MAEL) recruit around 12 apprentices each year for its aircraft maintenance programme which has an A Licence built in. Numbers may also increase in future years — as well as the company’s successful Luton and Manchester bases, MAEL is building a new hangar at Birmingham airport which will create 150 new jobs with the potential for a further 150 and will focus on third party maintenance provision from UK and overseas airlines.

Quality and quantity of applicants

Despite concerns that apprenticeships have a poor reputation, aerospace and aviation companies appear to be inundated with applicants.

For example, Butler says that Marshall ADG receives around 200 applications each year for its scheme which has around 16-20 places. Location can be an issue for Marshall which is based in Cambridge. Rob says: "Cambridge is an expensive place to rent property and apprentices also need to drive to work due to hours and poor public transport."

At MAEL applicant numbers are even higher with 650 applicants in 2013. Jeff Brewer, Engineering Training Manager, says they assess everyone who applies. Brewer does have concerns about school performance, particularly as he feels a C grade in GCSE Maths does not mean the candidate’s Maths skills are of high enough standard for their programme, particularly in areas such as fractions. Monarch’s partner college will provide Functional Skills support for those who require a better standard of Maths which, Brewer says, "often provides better preparation for the workplace than GCSE Maths". MAEL work closely with local schools to promote the scheme but can see a conflict with schools who have sixth forms, as they want students to stay on.

Nonetheless, BAE Systems is also attracting high numbers of applicants. Fraser Kennedy, HR Manager — Employer Ownership & Defence Partnering, says: "We received 1,000 applications for the 45 advanced engineering apprenticeships commencing this September for our Military Aircraft business in Preston." However, Kennedy believes there is an issue further down the supply chain. "Anecdotal feedback from SMEs is that they often struggle to attract quality candidates for apprenticeships and, likewise, they find the quality of training from some training providers not to be always fit for purpose." To address the issue, BAE Systems received funding under the Employer Ownership of Skills Pilot (EOP) scheme to begin a Level 3 advanced engineering apprentice overtraining scheme based in Preston from this September. "We had funding for 50 apprenticeships but we have had to lower our target based on demand from local companies," says Kennedy. "This is likely due to a combination of factors, including the current economic/business conditions; lack of familiarity with the over-training concept, plus employers looking for long-term apprentice training provision, whereas we currently only have funding for single, ‘pilot’ phase."

Why did not more SMEs commit to the scheme? Fraser comments: "Taking on an apprentice is a major, long-term commitment for an SME and under  present economic conditions, some are reluctant to make that investment. Likewise, there is still some scepticism with SMEs regarding the quality of some apprentice training provision. We make a significant investment in our apprentice scheme that well exceeds the funding we draw down from the Skills Funding Agency."

Hand skills

Another issue highlighted by both Butler and Brewer is the hand skills requirement for both organisations’ Advanced Apprenticeship schemes. Both use practical tests during the selection process. Butler says: "Testing hand skills makes the recruitment process more complex and expensive but essential to the role. Engineering capability is just as important as interest in aircraft." Butler has noticed a pattern emerging among candidates whereby those with high academic achievement have lower manual dexterity. He worries that with the pressure on schools to achieve higher grades that young people are spending more time on their studies to achieve these and less on hobbies which help develop the practical skills required for the apprentice scheme. He notes that often, those who perform better in the recruitment process have had hobbies which lend themselves to hand skills, such as car or bike maintenance. Brewer adds: "Hand skills are simply not encouraged in schools, and graduates who apply after university are particulary weak when it comes to hand skills. Our assessment takes both theory and practical aspects into account as a combination of both is important to succeed."


[caption id="attachment_8457" align="alignnone" width="375"] BAE Systems have also been ‘over-training’ applicants to place them with SMEs. (BAE Systems)[/caption]

How important is Government apprenticeship funding to employers? Both Marshall and Monarch work with partner colleges who draw down Government funds to contribute to training costs but, as Brewer notes: "Funding is not the main driver in assessing a candidate, most important is that they have the right skills."

Butler agrees. "We look ahead to our business needs over the next few years and work with our local college who can draw down funding but also look to get best candidate, even if not eligible for funding due to age, etc." However, Butler believes Government support is essential to apprenticeship providers, without which many would not operate and also for Government to "show their commitment to skills development."

The funding landscape is changing, such as the UK Commission for Employment’s EOP programme which encourages industry leadership. Phase 1 applications were announced in September 2012 and Phase 2 applications will be announced in the summer of 2013. BAE Systems was successful in bidding for Phase 1 funding and Fraser says: "One of the advantages of the EOP funding to employers is that it enables large employers to use their surplus apprentice training capacity to help support small companies in their supply chain and wider sector. We can offer the proven experience we have built up over many years.’’

Aircraft regulations

For MRO providers, matching apprenticeship framework requirements with aircraft regulatory requirements offers additional challenges. Butler notes it can be a struggle to match NVQ and City & Guild requirements with CAA requirements and believes greater dialogue is needed between awarding bodies and regulators to better align modules to encourage people into the industry.

Colleges also have to adapt. Brewer says it took some time for their partner college to adapt to the aircraft industry approach and the ‘100% right or in the bin’ standards but now have a very robust programme in place. Brewer’s concern is of those applying from university having completed B Licence modules but without the appropriate practical experience and sometimes unrealistic salary expectations. Brewer says: "Going to university can make it harder to work in aircraft maintenance afterwards" and advises those on this route to address the hand skills requirements and needs of MRO employers.

Return on investment

Most employers agree that they will contribute substantially to apprentice training and the development of new programmes. As Hamer points out: "It is true that the relative return on investment of apprentice and graduate programmes are fairly similar but, importantly, apprentice retention is better than graduate retention. Apprentices are recruited locally and are more likely to stay with our businesses."

Generally speaking, apprenticeships are an excellent way to retain staff. Monarch has also found that attrition rates among apprentices are lower, and most stay with the company, meaning they are less affected by skills gaps later down the line, such as a lack of B1 Licensed Engineers.  At Marshall, Butler admits that some of their apprentices are poached by other companies but notes they usually stay within the aerospace sector thus retaining skills and this also helps demonstrate that Marshall are setting high standards which can lead to more business for the company.

Gender divide

However, Butler highlights that lack of female apprentices as a persistent problem and is a focus for Marshall’s current marketing campaign. In 2014, its Insight into Aerospace programme —which offers two one-week sessions for selected young people to visit all areas of the Marshall business, carry out engineering exercises and experience many aspects of working in the industry — will include a girls-only week. That said, Butler says many girls are not progressing through the selection stages, usually due to not performing well on tests looking at three-dimensional ability. This may be due to less encouragement in activities which develop these skills at a younger age, and we would like to look at ways to improve girls’ performance in these skills.

BAE Systems has also made diversity a focus of its EOP2 proposal which includes Level 2 intermediate apprenticeship concept for local schools. This would provide the opportunity for year 10/11 students to come into its facilities for one day per week to get a ‘hands-on’ qualification over a two-year period. Kennedy says: "We would also use this to help address some of our business diversity and inclusion targets to attract both females and ethnic minorities into careers in engineering to reflect the communities we work in."

Branching out

British Airways Engineering and BAE Systems are also investing into Business Apprenticeships. BAE Systems has found that attrition levels for graduates on their commercial programmes are higher than they would like, saying: "The ‘big four’ [financial] consultancies can offer more than we can and we have experienced resource shortages for commercial and procurement graduates once they have received their professional accreditation." Furthermore, the BAE Systems Business Apprenticeship will also allow the company to incorporate business-specific experience, such as exposure to US Government DoD sub-contractors requirements which would not typically form part of a usual academic degree.

Finally, apprenticeships have taken flight with the Higher Apprenticeship in Professional Aviation Pilot Practice which launched in April 2013, enabling aspiring pilots to become apprentices during their flight training and gain a Bachelor’s degree, as well as their commercial pilot’s licence. Applicants can apply directly to participating flight training organisations and will be able to access financial support through the Student Loans Company, a UK first. It is also envisaged that airlines will take on pilot trainees who can then earn an apprentice wage to also help reduce the financial burden. This marks a step change for pilot training and, over the coming months, we will report on those who undertake the programme and similar projects being envisaged for other parts of aviation.

Recognising apprenticeships: the Society's role


NAOMI PAGE, Membership Manager, Royal Aeronautical Society reports

[caption id="attachment_8456" align="alignnone" width="165"] Airbus apprentices can now obtain professional registration via the Royal Aeronautical Society. (Airbus)[/caption]

In 2013, the RAeS has run a number of initiatives to support apprenticeships. In March we introduced the new ‘Apprentice Affiliate’ grade of membership which is for those on a recognised full-time Craft Apprenticeship. Higher apprentices can also become members by applying for our ‘Student Affiliate’ grade.

The Society also hosted the first ‘Apprentice Engagement Forum’ in May this year. This event was an opportunity for both apprentices and employers to hear about apprenticeship schemes within the sector. The day included presentations from the Society’s President, Jenny Body OBE, Semta, a specialist economist from Kings College London, the Engineering Council and also apprentices from MBDA, who shared their experiences and how to get the most out of apprenticeship training. The Society’s newly formed Education and Skills Committee and the Young Persons Committee are keen to hold a similar event next year and develop ways in which the Society can further support the professional development of apprentices. This year’s annual secondary schools event, the Ballantyne, also compared apprenticeship with graduate routes into both sectors and we will also maintain this theme in the coming years to help inform young people, parents and teachers about the advantages both offer.

The Society can also approve Higher Apprenticeships for Incorporated Engineer (IEng) status and Craft Apprenticeships for Engineering Technician (EngTech) status. Airbus has already taken advantage of the approval for both schemes. Gary Griffiths, Head of Apprenticeships for Airbus in the UK, commented: "I am delighted with the agreement we have reached with RAeS on having our apprenticeships approved for EngTech and IEng. The new Apprentice Affiliate now enables us to use the Society for all our apprentices in the future." The Society hopes to meet with other industry leaders to approve their apprenticeship schemes in the coming months.  

AEROSPACE Contents - August 2013

Comment- p 3 Radome- p 4 One the move - p 9 Transmissions - p 10 The 21st Century character of air power - p 12 Flying for your lives - p 18 Awaiting the pilot shortage tsunami - p 20 Targeting tomorrow - p 24 Gama - 30 years of progress - p 28 Apprenticeships reach new heights - p 30 Age of extremes: Paris Air Show report - p34 Afterburner - p 41 Message from our President/RAeS Golf Day - p 42 Message from our Chief Executive - p 43 Book reviews - p 44 Library additions - p 47 Obituaries - p 48 Diary - p 52 Corporate Partners - p 54 NATS Swanwick - p 55 RAeS elections - p 56 Society news  - p 57 The Last Word - p 58  
This is a full article published in AEROSPACE: August 2013. As a member, you receive one Royal Aeronautical Society publication each month - find out more about membership.

Royal Aeronautical Society
16 August 2013