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“We’ve developed some great ways to make children excited about our apprenticeships and our industry, and you can too,” says Mark Donnelly from BAE Systems

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Here, one of our Trailblazers, Mark Donnelly, from BAE Systems, talks about the innovative strategies he uses involve school pupils. He also discusses why other employers should follow suit.

Firstly, can you give us a brief idea about what apprentices at BAE Systems learn?

We have 2000 apprentices training at every level in engineering, manufacturing, aircraft maintenance and support, project management, business, finance and cyber security. What our apprentices learn depends on what part of the company they are working in and what apprenticeship they are following.

“…some might be learning about technology used in a nuclear submarine or a fighter jet, or the design of pilots’ helmets, or machines such as those that can produce and then dismantle temporary bridges.”

For example, some might be learning about technology used in a nuclear submarine or a fighter jet, or the design of pilots’ helmets, or machines such as those that can produce and then dismantle temporary bridges. They may be learning about welding, painting, wiring or manufacturing techniques; or they could be specialising in project management learning about scheduling and planning activity, financial planning and managing stakeholders – our programmes offer lots of opportunities.

Can you tell us a bit about the methods you use to engage with young people?

We engage with young people in a number of different ways which I will list for you here; 

  • School ‘road shows’

We've developed a ‘schools roadshow’, which we deliver to 420 schools. This enables us to reach 130,000 young people. The roadshow takes the form of a performance-based presentation which looks at the different ways people perceive science, technology, engineering and maths subjects. We aim to inspire pupils by helping them develop an interest in the subjects. We also show them how the skills they are learning at school can help them into an apprenticeship, which will then enable them to put their learning to use in the real world.

“We don’t just focus on older pupils.”

  •  Visits to our premises for younger children

We don’t just focus on older pupils. When it comes to inspiring long term interest in our field, we know that this can take a long time. Children as young as eight are invited to visit our premises, and this helps them develop an interest in engineering and technology.

We’ve created a special educational area just for school pupils at our £15.9m Academy for Skills and Knowledge, (where we deliver our apprentice training in our Air Sector). Here they can explore the world of science, technology, engineering and maths in inspirational ways.

One activity looks at how ‘phenomena found in the natural world’ inspires our technology. For example, the children they will get to examine the hexagonal shapes within a honeycomb how that adds strength to a structure. We then show the children how we have adopted the methodology found in honeycombs to construct sturdy aeroplane wings.

  •  Apprentice or ex apprentice ‘ambassadors’ providing talks to schools

We have 300 ‘ambassadors’, who are former apprentices who go to schools and talk about some of the interesting projects they been involved in. They also let them know what difference taking on an apprenticeship has made to their lives in other ways such as gaining top qualifications and earning a good salary.

  •  Involving schools that will boost diversity and inclusivity within apprenticeships

There is an incredible shortage of girls and people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities entering the engineering industry so we make sure we include ‘all girl’ schools and those in areas with a high BAME population to encourage interest and engagement. It is important that young people from all backgrounds are given opportunities to excel.

Do you think other small or medium sized business could follow your model?

I believe so, and I think they should if they can. I would encourage others to contact local schools in their area. To explore ways that they can inspire more pupils to form an interest in their field, whilst also informing them of the apprenticeship opportunities available.

“Engaging young people is important to us for business reasons.”

Why do you feel it’s important to speak to schools about developments in the apprenticeship space?

Engaging young people is important to us for business reasons. We have a serious need to recruit new young talent into our industry and to make our apprenticeships of a high quality. In some parts of our business large parts of our workforce are due for retirement, and apprenticeships help us train and develop people to help us meet the future engineering, technology and business skills we need to compete effectively.

As trailblazers, we’re all working with the Institute to create new high quality apprenticeships – but this range of new opportunities, improvements and changes we are working towards will need to be communicated to young people to help them make career decisions. Employers need to think about this.

Here at BAE Systems we have directly engaged with schools for decades, and feel that this is a particularly good way to spread word of what fantastic opportunities and career paths are offered through apprenticeships.

Other links relating to Employers Connecting with Schools:

How the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink guides employers to engage with schools

See how trailblazer HEINEKEN uses innovative techniques to get young people interested in engineering apprenticeships.

'Both employers and pupils are missing out' - why a young apprentice and a teenage school boy think employers must engage with schools more

Find out what happened when Harvey Coulson from HEINEKEN became a schools ambassador.

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