A GE Aviation Systems higher engineering apprentice, Steve Mann is in the second year of his three-year programme, based in Bishop's Cleeve near Cheltenham.
Mann left school after completing his GCSEs due to family reasons and worked full time in supermarkets for a few years. This left him feeling unfulfilled so he decided to go to college and complete his A levels. However after a year, and having completed his Mathematics A2 level and his Physics and Accounts AS level, he had to leave because he couldn't support himself financially.
"At this point I realised how much I wanted a career rather than just a job and that it was important to keep learning so I decided to start looking for apprenticeships," he explains. "I applied to many places including Honda, BMW, Renishaws and GE Aviation. The GE apprenticeship was the ideal scenario for me as it was the only higher apprenticeship that I had found which had equivalent starting pay to what I was earning full time at the supermarket but I would also be studying for a foundation degree in Aerospace Computer Systems while working.
"As someone who was struggling to support myself financially through learning it was the ideal solution. It is also exciting to have an opportunity to work at such a large and reputable company," he adds.
GE has a large proportion of the market of aircraft systems including power and display systems. Mann wanted to work for them for the pride of working on something that has such a great impact on the infrastructure of modern society, knowing that he would be working with some of the greatest engineering minds in the world to produce some of the greatest technological achievements in history.
To get a place on the apprenticeship scheme, he had to submit a CV onto the GE careers website, and was then asked to attend an assessment centre. This included psychometric testing, a group activity with other candidates and an individual interview.
The first nine months of the apprenticeship are spent at college studying the first year of the foundation degree full time. This then gives the apprentices a very good academic platform to be able to begin understanding the projects and rotations around the company that they are assigned to during academic holidays for the first year and majority of the second and third years.
The second and third are split; four days at work on site and one day a week back at college studying the more difficult modules of the foundation degree.
Apprentices walk away with a number of qualifications that the company funds. These are:
GE Aviation Systems also funds membership to the IET for all its apprentices, and the scheme itself is IET approved.
"I jumped at the opportunity to be a member of such a prestigious institute, as it can give members lots of opportunity for networking, information on other engineering sectors while also being a good medium to show what level you are at as an engineer through accreditation," notes Mann.
"I haven't utilised the benefits as much as I would have liked yet due to the intensity of my apprenticeship and a resultant lack of time, however I enjoy E&T magazine and the fact that the IET keeps a close eye on my apprenticeship, ensuring our continued development by meeting with our employers."
"Parallel to all of the qualifications and the rotations around the departments (software, systems and hardware) we are also encouraged to engage in volunteering activities with the company, something I have done heavily," notes Mann.
"This includes attending lots of careers fairs at local schools offering our experience to people who would like to get involved in STEM related careers. As part of the volunteering we run a handful of initiatives from our site such as Flying Start Challenge, K'Nex Challenge, Girls Get SET and Imagineering.
"This year I have lead the Imagineering initiative on site. This means organising a team of 25 volunteers to attend four shows over the year to promote careers relating to STEM. We run it like a technical project so that we may learn as much about the business as possible so this included pitching to site management for a budget and lots of logistical planning. As I am sure you can tell it is a very intensive apprenticeship!"
Mann is also in the process of setting up a GE Aviation Apprenticeship Association as the company has two different apprenticeships and many ex-apprentices on site. "I'm interested in finding ways to network with apprentices from other companies with a view to showing the different jobs that we do to each other but also to raise the profile of apprenticeships in general," he explains.
Mann was rewarded for his volunteering efforts by winning the GE UK new volunteer of the year award. The prize included being chauffeur driven to the Millennium Hotel in London for a dinner and drinks reception with many site leaders and the head of GE in Europe.
Mann believes the pros of his apprenticeship far outweigh the cons. He's extremely happy that he's able to work towards a foundation degree without incurring any student debt, plus he'll have the option to top up to a full bachelor's degree fully funded by the company after the apprenticeship.
There's also the fact that he's earning a good wage while he learns, is able to gain experience in parallel with an academic qualification, plus he knows he's gaining qualifications that employers want, since they chose them!
On the downside he's keen to highlight that all these opportunities come with a price - the scheme is very intensive. In addition, his 'year group' was the first set of apprentices to go on a higher apprenticeship, which means the company is still finding its way.
Ideally Mann would like to spend more time on the military projects and perhaps at GE in the United States. Another interesting avenue would be China, which is massively ramping up their production of commercial aircraft. He has always dreamt of working for NASA, which would not be impossible.
"All of these possibilities are extremely attractive because of the impact they have on either the lives of so many people or humanity itself," he enthuses.