With research from Tomorrow's Engineers Week showing that less than one in ten 11-14 year olds are planning to be engineers once they finish education, it concerns me that such high volumes of young people and young girls in particular are rejecting career choices in engineering out of ignorance at the opportunities.
At MBDA we rely on young talent to fuel our future workforce and lack of passion and interest in engineering will impact our national well being and productivity if not properly addressed.
While it is encouraging that initiatives such as Tomorrow's Engineers Week and various new government policies are starting to address these issues - a lot of the problem goes much deeper - into perceptions of engineering and the modern reality of our industry.
While our business has 'traditional' engineering roles, many of the opportunities our apprentices experience mean they end up in careers as diverse as electronics, software engineering and procurement.
One of the only ways we can combat these perceptions is to invest time in sharing experiences of our engineers and apprentices within local schools and colleges - an investment that pays off.
Before our local community involvement, not only were there misunderstandings about engineering but also about the routes to entry. As lead for our Apprenticeships at MBDA I am passionate about helping people realise the opportunities within engineering via apprentice-level training as well as graduate entry routes.
At MBDA, we employ Engineering, Business and Support Apprentices on four-year programmes built around three areas of development of Professional, Personal and Technical. We currently have 63 apprentices with the business, with 43 apprentice engineers and 20 in business roles. Out of our total we have 39 female, 29 male apprentices and specifically in engineering we have 23 female to 20 male. Ratios we are really proud of.
MBDA apprentices experience objective structured rotational work placements in a variety of departments within the company. These are combined with learning objectives and are supported by day release at college or university. This combination provides the apprentices with a broad range of knowledge and experience - this way they learn about a range of roles they could take on with their engineering knowledge. From working on site with the Armed Forces in Portsmouth or the Falkland's to working in an office based environment on design, quality and commodities; to working in our manufacturing sites involved with mechanical and electronics build and testing. Our apprentices are able to have placements thought the UK and have the opportunity to travel and work in Europe.
These skills are enhanced by technical and personal development courses including: Presentation Skills, Languages, Negotiation Skills, High Voltage Awareness, IPC, Team-Working and Project Management. We also now have a diversity programme to Advanced Apprenticeship level ensure more female leaders.
One of the ways we work to challenge outside perceptions is our local community projects, all our apprentices get involved with promoting Apprenticeships and help out with schools science, business and engineering projects. This helps us to maintain a 50% spilt of female-male apprentices, which is very rare in engineering.
The research from Tomorrow's Engineers Week shows that girls in particular are not attracted to engineering as a career option, with 65 per cent not considering a career in engineering, a quarter of which don't think that engineering is a suitable or attractive career for women. What's worse, three quarters (76 per cent) of parents with girls haven't encouraged their daughters to consider engineering as a career option.
Our 50% split of female-male apprentices shows it is possible to get the mix right - but more businesses need to tap into the fact that many young people - both boys and girls - are using - and enjoying using - engineering-related skills in everyday life.
I believe that Apprenticeships are a primary means by which the lifeblood of capability and, perhaps more importantly, knowledge of our complex business can be sustained.
The business results are impressive - the average length of service for employees at MBDA is over twenty five years and half of our Directors are ex-apprentices. Apprentices have won 24 Gold Medals in National Skills Competitions and have represented the UK in International Skills Competitions nine times. These achievements help recruit further high calibre school leavers who can be developed to improve the business in the long-term. These links represent massive saving on advertising costs as well as positively promoting MBDA on a wider scale.
Our apprentices have entered WorldSkills UK National and International Competitions and since 1990 have gained valuable experience which has been transferred back into the business, and helped to fast track their progress.
Apprentice development guarantees continuity of service, high quality skills and technical knowledge in the company. Apprentices bring new Innovation and cost savings ideas which enables us to maintain our competitive edge while demonstrating long-term commitment to customer support and service.
Apprentices demonstrate infectious enthusiasm and commitment alongside a willingness to learn. They strive for constant development and this helps to motivate and reinvigorate the employees that support them it also develops people management, leadership skills and the personal satisfaction of those responsible for their development-coaching.
The programme's high Apprentice retention rates, has saved the business on average £73,000 for every recruited individual over a five year period against re-recruitment, training and development.