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Aerospace engineering

Information on aerospace engineering apprenticeships and what career opportunities there are in this sector.

An Airbus A380 flying over mountains - Image supplied by Airbus The UK’s aerospace industry is real success story: it’s number two worldwide and there are almost 1,000 British companies that are connected to it in different ways, providing a lot of potential for young people.

At the moment there is a lot of investment in apprenticeships within the UK aerospace industry, especially in higher apprenticeships. This means there are opportunities for young people to go into an apprenticeship after GCSEs or A levels, and some can go on to do a degree as part of their apprenticeship programme.

The aerospace sector has continued to be quite strong despite the economic downturn, and there’s a lot going on. The A350’s now in its test phase, new aircraft continue to be developed and there’s also a lot of work going into improving aircraft including making them more environmentally efficient. Organisations are looking at their future needs and know it’s important to keep bringing in new engineers.

The civil aerospace sector in particular is looking to grow its number of engineers right now due to long order books, so things are very positive for the industry. 

Retention is also high, as Rosalind Azouzi, careers and education manager at the Royal Aeronautical Society highlights.

“People love aerospace and are really passionate about what they do. They tend to be very motivated and happy. There’s quite a lot of retention in the sector - people may have the opportunity to move around a lot, but they don’t tend to leave!”

Design and manufacture engineering within the aerospace sector

For those interested in design and manufacturing, two of the biggest manufacturers are Rolls-Royce and Airbus, both of which offer high quality engineering apprenticeship schemes.

This area involves learning about the design and manufacture of aircraft, and because it’s very complex there is a lot of hands-on work, so this is a good area for people who want to be manual in their career.

Mechanical and electrical engineering within the aerospace sector

For those with a love of mechanical or electrical engineering, there’s an opportunity to specialise in areas such as wings, landing gears and engines, another big business area within the UK’s aerospace industry, plus of course, avionics systems is another specialist area to consider.

Aerospace structural engineering

There are also a lot of opportunities within structural engineering as the big players are doing a lot of work on stress and structural engineering, researching composites and new materials.

Working in the aerospace defence sector

Although the defence sector has struggled more than others due to government cutbacks, there are still lots of opportunities for young people. Unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) have provided opportunities as well as research into new and more sophisticated aircraft.

Aerospace maintenance

Manufacturers such as Rolls-Royce and GKN have aftersales divisions, where they offer servicing and maintenance. A buoyant and interesting sector to work in, there are some great apprenticeship opportunities available.

Airlines also have their own maintenance engineer opportunities.

“If you’re based with an airline like British Airways or Monarch you’ll be in the hanger, doing hands-on work,” highlights Azouzi. “There are also what we call independent MROs (maintenance, repairs and operations) - these are organisations that simply do maintenance and have hangers in airports where customers will bring their aircraft,” she adds.

Skills needed

Aerospace employers are interested in people with qualifications in STEM subjects: a strong interest in science and maths is key. For those interested in advanced apprenticeships it’s recommended that you’ll need five GCSEs at C or above including science, maths and English. For higher apprenticeships you’re looking at the same types of subjects, but at A level.

For those interested in maintenance and being hands-on, then employers look for individuals with good practical skills.

“They need to use tools, and they will be tested on them during the interview process,” highlights Azouzi.

“Things like design and technology are also useful for these people, and if they’ve got an interest in anything practical - like car maintenance, for example - then that will really help them when applying,” she adds.

Salary

Once qualified, graduate engineers in the aerospace sector can earn £25,000 or more as a starting salary, and an average salary for a worker in this sector is around £35,000.

Want to find out more?

The Royal Aeronautical Society's website [new window] is a great place to find out more, as you can download lists of companies that work in this sector. Other good sources of information include the aerospace sector’s trade association ADS [new window] and the IET’s Aerospace Network [new window].