Your career in aerospace, top tips! The Ballantyne 2017 report

Today’s and tomorrow’s aerospace leaders pass on their top tips to the next generation at the Ballantyne 2017

The Royal Aeronautical Society is celebrating 20 years of dedicated careers activities this year and the Society’s annual secondary school event, the Ballantyne, named after former RAeS Secretary Dr Archie Ballantyne, was the perfect opportunity to kick off the celebrations on Friday 28 April at our London headquarters.

Themed ‘Your career in aerospace: the next 20 years’, the Ballantyne 2017 featured a packed programme of inspirational talks, ranging from from industry leaders to new entrants into the sector, competitions and challenges and an afternoon Q&A Panel session where the audience could put their careers questions to the experts.  

129 visitors attended the day, ranging from secondary school pupils looking at their future choices to college students embarking on their aerospace journey and seeking advice as they look at apprenticeships and university options.

The Society was particularly grateful for Raytheon UK’s sponsorship for the fourth event running, enabling the Society to put on a varied programme which included talks from Raytheon’s own inspirational team and a fantastic quadcopter prize for their lunchtime design challenge.  

Tips from the top

Following an introduction to the Society and our careers work from Professor Chris Atkin, RAeS Immediate Past President, Roy Donelson, Managing Director, Defence, Raytheon UK, provided the keynote welcome.

Roy’s career path, from the US military to industry, provided a rich resource of learning and advice which he generously shared with the audience. Valuable tips included the mantra ‘Cooperate and graduate’ – frequently cited by his teachers during his Systems Engineering degree. Roy advised the audience to be curious, learn as much as possible and that, “Engineering is a team sport and team beats talent every time,” in other words, being a good engineer means being a good team player.


Roy also highlighted that career development not only comes through education and the day job –  active involvement in professional networks also enables you to develop important skills for the workplace, broaden your knowledge as well as pass on your knowledge to others, highlighting the value of his work as President of the Raytheon Asian Pacific Association and the Southern Arizona Chapter of INCOSE, an international body for systems engineers.

Graduate pathway

Although only 22, Serena Martin, Graduate Quality Assurance Engineer at Raytheon showed that it is never too soon to start taking that advice. Growing up in Thailand and China, Serena made a decided to continue her studies in the UK and worked hard to earn a place at Wellbeck Defence 6th Form College where she studied A Levels as well as taking full advantage of the range of extra-cuuricular activities on offer, supporting her personal development. Serena then went to Aston University to study Supply Chain Management and Logistics as part of the Defence Technical Undergraduate Scheme. While not a traditional engineering degree, Serena became very involved in the voluntary opportunities offered through DTUS, including spending three weeks in Kenya on a building project for the local community. This combination of experience and knowledge helped Serena gain a place on the Raytheon graduate programme and she also won the Jaguar Land Rover prize for her final year dissertation, graduating with a first class degree.


Serena really brought home the importance of continuous learning, getting involved, setting yourself goals and trying new things. In her role at Raytheon she is a STEM ambassador, helping to inspire younger audiences into engineering as well as the Harlow site lead for the Raytheon UK Reservist and Veterans network.


Jamie Hodgson and Shaun Myddelton gave the audience an insight into their engineering journey via the apprenticeship route. Both are Electrical/Avionics apprentices based at Raytheon’s Broughton site. Training to work in hands-on roles on Raytheon’s Sentinel MK I aircraft, their work includes maintenance and modificatons; repairing wiring looms; replacing components; installations, inspections and testing. Both can opt to work towards their EASA Aircraft Maintenance B2 Licence following the apprenticeship. 


However, it’s not only their engineering skills which Jamie and Shaun are developing through the apprenticeship: from taking part in teambuilding outward bound trips with colleagues both Raytheon and other local engineering/aerospace companies, to competing in the aircraft engineering World Skills competitions in front of thousands of people at the NEC, to representing young engineers in Parliament to highlight the importance of STEM and apprenticeships to MPs and Government ministers, Jamie and Shaun emphasised the communication, teamwork and confidence that the apprenticeship has brought them, along with many career options for the future.

Each highlighted that the hard work pays off and Jamie advised the audience not to be afraid to ask questions and take as much advice from others as you can! Shaun added, “Find your passion because that will drive you to success.”

Military routes

The military also offer fantastic aviation engineering opportunities and Corporal Daria Savkova provided an insight into Aircraft Technician routes with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) whose aircraft range from the Apache, Lynx and wildcat helicopters and Watchkeeper and Desert Hawk 3 unmanned systems.


Daria first joined the British Army in 2012 and due to her love of sciences, applied to join REME as a trainee Aircraft Technician, working and studying at the same time to achieve her engineering qualifications alongside gaining experience. She is now a Class 3 Aircraft Technician having successfully completed both her soldier and trade specific training. With a structured route offering the chance to take on early responsibility, Daria is already starting to pass on her experience to new recruits and since being promoted to Corporal is about to start a supervisors’ course at the new School of Army Aeronautical Engineering at MOD Lyneham.

Daria not only has a passion for her role, she has also taken advantage of some of the exciting opportunities offered within the army including parachute jumping and skiing. Daria is also looking forward to her next steps completing her Artificers course, accredited at degree level and developing engineering leadership and management skills.

With 2018 marking the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force, Flight Lieutenant Richard Smithson and Warrant Officer Andy Rodulson of the RAF Presentation team,  provided an in-depth look at the vast number of career opportunities offered by the air RAF – such as engineering, flying, logistics, air traffic management and medicine, to name a few, with fast track routes into leadership and supervisory roles. The presentation highlighted the variety of work that the RAF does, from protecting the skies to humanitarian aid to supporting military interventions, no two days are the same.

Again, being passionate and committed in what you set out to do, along with a team mindset are essential skills for a career in the RAF.

‘New space’

For space engineering and astrophysics postgraduate, Shefali Sharma, her passion for space has resulted in a different path, working for a start-up space engineering company, Oxford Space Systems, based at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, home to many growing UK space companies.


Shefali introduced the audience to the concept of ‘new space’ whereby solutions to the key challenges facing space engineering and science today  – such as the cost and risks of space launches; reuseable launch vehicles; restrictions on size and shape of equipment and payloads has led to the birth of entrepreneur-led companies competing with the traditional space manufacturers, such as Space X, Reaction Engineers and Shefali’s employer, Oxford Space Systems, which is aiming to revolutionise space engineering with clever ‘origami’ engineered solutions.

Shefali highlighted the strength and ambition within the space sector, particularly in the UK where the sector is growing annually, employing 28,900 people today and aiming to reach a 100,000 workforce and take 10% of the global space market by 2030. Shefali described what it is like to start your career in a smaller company such as the opportunity to get involved in different areas of the business, grow your career as the company develops, and witness the impact of your contribution to the company’s growth. Shefali highlighted the variety that the space sector offers and, for those not seeking a traditional graduate scheme, the number of new space companies provides increasing opportunities for the future, in engineering design and manufacture as well as commercial and marketing areas.


For those looking for pilot careers advice, Captain Marnie Munns, commercial pilot with easyJet, gave frank insight into her career path and the opportunities the airline is currently offering. Despite having both an undergraduate and Master’s qualification in psychology, Marnie emphasised that a degree is not a prerequisite for entry onto pilot training schemes. Marnie provided some useful stats for those weighing up university study with direct pilot training; while taking an integrated pilot course is an expensive initial outlay, university routes are not far behind once tuition fees and living costs are factored in, and many pilot entry salaries are higher than graduate equivalents, helping to balance out the costs over the long term. The airline is also developing a number of programmes to help people enter the sector, such as through their Amy Johnson Scholarships which aim to increase the numbers of female pilots from the current 5% to 20%. 


Audience participation

The audience were given the chance to put their aerospace and aviation skills to the test during the extended lunch break with a series of activities designed to test skills such as engineering, logical thinking, flying aptitude and design ability from Raytheon, REME and the RAeS. Prizes included a top of the range quadcopter, courtesy of Raytheon.

The UK Space Agency and Embry-Riddle University were also on hand with more careers advice and the lunch area was buzzing with questions for the speakers and exhibitors.

To round up the event he event ended with a Q&A session for audience to ask the speakers and exhibitors key careers-related questions. Popular topics included:

- Flight training costs

- Scholarships and possible company sponsorships for tuition fees

- Apprenticeship opportunities

- Working for an SME versus working for a large employer

- Transition from military to civil careers 

The panel noted that while there are only limited sponsored degree programmes now available, other options for students to support their studies include doing an industrial sandwich placement year, which can sometimes lead to final year support after successful completion of the placement, or applying for the increasing number of Higher and Degree Apprenticeships which many aerospace employers are currently developing in partnership with universities and colleges. The RAeS also runs the Centennial Scholarship fund for support to tuition fees while several organisations, including HCAP and the Air League offer flying scholarships. The discussions highlighted the many varied career options now available, but in particular, to be open minded, not to be afraid to ask questions and to remember that, with so many varied career options and pathways, aerospace and aviation really does offer something for everyone.

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Careers Team
24th May 2017