Case study

Apprentice aerospace engineer — Khadijah

After finishing her A-levels, Khadijah managed to secure an aerospace engineering degree apprenticeship with BAE Systems, which gives her the opportunity to achieve a Bachelors degree from Lancaster University

Why did you decide to do a degree apprenticeship?

I'd filled in my UCAS application and was getting offers from universities, but when I saw an online advert about degree apprenticeship opportunities with BAE Systems, I thought 'hold on'. I attended their 'Girls into Engineering' event where they showcased state-of-the-art pilot helmets plus all this amazing tech and I really enjoyed it.

I liked that I could earn while learning, as well as the experience aspect of it - I've gained five years of workplace experience before I've even graduated.

Did you need any previous engineering experience before starting your degree apprenticeship?

The main thing was to have A-levels in Maths and Physics, or a BTEC equivalent.

How did you find and apply for your degree apprenticeship with BAE Systems?

I saw it online and then learned more at the 'Girls into Engineering' event I attended.

How does the degree apprenticeship work?

It's five years long. The first six months you spend at the training centre, completing a Level 2 Diploma in Aerospace and Aviation. You also learn the skills you'll need like crafting, machining, computer-aided design (CAD), electrical design and drawings. Then you complete a Level 4 Diploma in Advanced Manufacturing as well as a Bachelors degree in aerospace engineering.

And you're gaining experience at the same time. You have six-month rotational placements split across the business - so you might move from a concept design placement to one providing support for finished technology that's already out there servicing customers.

In terms of responsibility, I'd say that it's all down to you; you're in control of your own destiny. Make the most of the opportunities provided and enjoy the journey.

What do you enjoy about your degree apprenticeship?

It's the people. Whether it's solving problems or learning from them or even being supported by them. They've given me the push to pursue what I want to do and make the apprenticeship my own, such as taking up opportunities to travel to Chicago and Spain. I even had a unique experience where I got to live down in the south of the UK for a year, working in collaboration with a specialist team. I was involved in the design, build, testing and flight of a new cutting-edge drone capable of staying in the air for a year at a time.

What's the most challenging part of your degree apprenticeship?

The most challenging part is balancing your time, because you've got many things to do. There's your degree, your work commitments, your diplomas, and then you've also got what I'm doing currently, which is going through the end-point assessment and writing up the evidence for that.

All the while, you'll be delivering your work objectives - so in that sense, it can be challenging. But once you learn how to balance your time, then you'll be a pro.

What support have you received?

I've received a wealth of support. I've had mentors, people who will sit down and talk to me about the toolsets I'm learning about. Even with personal stuff, there's always someone to talk to - people are just very helpful and I appreciate it. I hope I'm able to offer the same support I have received to new apprentices entering the business.

What are your plans for after your degree apprenticeship?

I really like integration, tying all the little bits and bobs together - so I could see myself in that kind of role. I plan to stay with BAE Systems and gain more experience, especially on the international side, and interacting with customers.

What advice would you give to others considering a degree apprenticeship?

  • Ask yourself whether you like to solve problems. If you do, and you'd like to start doing that right away, then why not apply for a degree apprenticeship role?
  • If you think you can juggle university studies while gaining workplace experience straight away, then this is for you.
  • Dream big. You can achieve your goals.

What more can be done to increase female representation in STEM?

It's difficult to answer, but the demographic is changing.

In terms of recruiting, we can continue to:

  • Get girls interested in engineering from a younger age.
  • Hold science fairs in disadvantaged communities and inspire them.
  • Empower the people in these positions and have them as more visible role models in their communities.

Find out more

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