Case study

Aircraft engineer — Daisy Campbell Roberts

Always preferring hands-on work and wanting to avoid a desk job Daisy decided to complete an aircraft maintenance apprenticeship. Learn more about her experience and find out what it's like to be an aircraft engineer

Why did you decide to do an apprenticeship?

I decided to do an apprenticeship because I was already doing a Level 2 NVQ course for aircraft maintenance and the college I attended always advised us to try and get an apprenticeship as soon as possible because it's the best way to get into the industry.

Engineering is a typically male-dominated industry. Why did you decide on this career?

I grew up around science - my dad was a science teacher and I’ve always enjoyed getting messy and being pretty hands on. I knew I didn't want to end up with a desk job, so during careers day at school I looked at the process of being able to work on the space station. I then saw that we had a college in my hometown that ran an aircraft maintenance NVQ course and it just seemed like the right thing for me. As soon as I started I loved it.

What did your apprenticeship involve?

My apprenticeship was incredible really. I started with a general engineering NVQ course in the first year and then for the second year I was sent to the Cotswolds for a year-long training course with an EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) to study and sit all of our aircraft maintenance A licence exams. The last two years of my apprenticeship were spent working within different areas of the business and gaining experience on aircraft.

What were your first few weeks in the role like?

A huge shock. Everyone told me that aircraft engineering was a male-dominated industry, but I didn't realise how much that would affect things. When a team is made up of just men they seem to revert back to boisterous teenage boys. For the first couple of years I felt I struggled to fit in. I was quite shy, and I didn't feel that instant camaraderie that I saw boys in my intake enjoy.

What's a typical day like as an aircraft engineer?

I work in base maintenance so most of the work I do is overhaul/inspection work. There's a lot of removing and refitting components, inspections and panelling up.

Near the end of the check, I refuel the aircraft, top up the hydraulic systems and do function checks, which is always fun because you get to be hangar pilot.

At the end of an aircraft check I also go for engine ground runs, where I taxi our aircraft out and function check the engines and its runoff systems, making sure that the aircraft is ready and safe to fly.

Describe your job in five words.

  • technical
  • hands on
  • interesting
  • fulfilling
  • messy.

What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

When doing a big overhaul of certain systems on my own I tend to start the job feeling nervous and a little unsure. However, my training and knowledge then kicks in and it's great to finish a big job and leave the aircraft feeling incredibly proud of my work.

What are the challenges?

I've had to work twice as hard to prove I belong here and that I'm competent. There's been a couple of times when I've had to fight to be chosen to do a job, when others with less experience would have been given it easily, so I view everything as a challenge and a chance to prove to myself that I belong here.

At times I suffer from 'imposter syndrome' where I feel like I shouldn't be doing what I am doing. This can make me apprehensive about starting a task, but then when I do start I realise I am capable. This is due to a lack of confidence and I know the more experience I get, the more comfortable and confident I'll feel. 

How has the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) supported you?

I got involved with WES when I was in the third year of my apprenticeship and I was having a hard time and feeling like I didn't belong in this line of work. WES gave me direct support from female mentors and I got to speak to women who had been in similar situations to my own. This made a huge difference to my decisions at that time. I have experienced the value of the WES and I'm excited to be part of it.

What are your career ambitions?

I would like to one day get my aircraft maintenance B licence and oversee an aircraft's check.

Tell us about three issues facing the aircraft engineering industry today.

  • The ageing workforce is a big issue. There's a huge age gap between experienced people currently working in the industry and the small amount of young people just starting out. Recently there's been a big push to get more apprentices and young workers into the aircraft engineering, but there's still going to be a gap in knowledge and experience when older workers retire.
  •  Another issue is the lack of diversity in this industry. I am currently the only female in the hangar and talking to people from other aircraft maintenance companies it seems like this is a common thing.
  •  Inclusivity is also an issue. I often hear inappropriate jokes so it feels like there's some work to be done before people from minority groups feel safe/happy within this very male environment.

What advice would you give to others considering an engineering apprenticeship?

I would tell them to stick with it. You can never ask to many questions and never be afraid to admit a mistake. If you wouldn't be comfortable to fly on the aircraft you were working on, then it shouldn't be flying at all.

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