With a manufacturing engineering degree under his belt, Hlaing took the fast track to success via the Rolls-Royce Graduate Scheme.
Thomas Hlaing always enjoyed two subjects at school – getting his hands dirty with the sciences and discovering the ins and outs of business. When choosing his degree he weighed up engineering against economics, and went with a four year MEng in manufacturing engineering and management, as the lab time and more applied, hands-on work really appealed.
“This course was ideal as I’ve come out with a technical degree, but also got to study operations management,” he says.
During university he took advantage of the IET’s Knowledge Management offerings, using the information available in the journals and online – as well as networking – to support his dissertation. Also garnering work experience as a researcher and automotive supplier in earlier years, he applied and got an internship at Rolls-Royce as part of his final year project.
On completion of his degree, Hlaing looked around at a variety of graduate schemes but chose to return to Rolls-Royce as its scheme stood out.
“Joining as a manufacturing engineering graduate, I was rotated through different areas of the business for four months at a time. I had secondments in the three pillars of manufacturing engineering: capability acquisition, product introduction and continuous improvement as well as a role in manufacturing business management. At the end of the scheme you have the choice to specialise and I’ve ended up working as a continuous improvement engineer,” he says.
The benefits of doing this kind of graduate scheme have been plentiful to Hlaing. Not only does Rolls-Royce actively support professional development and the Chartered Engineer status, they’ve also supported Hlaing’s further education, allowing him to study for an MSc at Bristol University.
“The training programme is very structured, and they pay for you to learn. In addition there’s an expectation that all graduates will achieve chartership,” he says. “It’s a very good scheme.”
Hlaing was also given three different mentors to help with separate areas of his professional development.
“We get an early career development advisor: a staff employee in HR that helps you with your career from that perspective, a chartered engineer mentor: someone who’s already chartered within the company to help you with that process, and you also get a business coach just to advise you on your career in wider aspects,” he says.
“I think (the biggest benefit of a graduate scheme) is that I’ve got breadth and depth,” he continues. “As a professional engineer I’ve got the breadth in terms of seeing the different aspects of wider engineering; I have interactions with design, materials, purchasing, supply chain and finance etc. The depth I have, as I’ve now spent two years as a lean sigma engineer.”
Hlaing was signed up for Rolls-Royce’s fast track leadership development scheme, helping him progress through the company much quicker, and he’s at a career level on par with the average 32-33 year old. At 27 years of age, he’s been the Rolls-Royce Production System (RRPS) programme manager for the aero repair and overhaul business for the last two years, focusing on how the business can get rid of waste activity, make employees jobs easier and reduce variation in the organisation’s processes. He looks after UK plants including Derby, Coventry, Glasgow and Bristol, but has also supported plants around the world.
“The job’s taken me around the country and world: Indianapolis, Frankfurt, Montréal, Hong Kong and seven months in Singapore, where I was responsible for the layout of a factory in the supply chain. This was a real highlight for me. You have to work hard, but you get to experience a different country and I think that’s a great experience,” he says.
The current role offers a lot of variety, and there’s no average day to be had, but this is one of the things Hlaing loves about the job. Regular meetings are held on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, the rest of his time can be spent in a different manner of ways.
“I couldn’t give you an average day. Certain meetings are standard but the rest of the day can vary between working on improvement projects, sorting out shop floor issues, burying my nose in data to understand what’s going on or off meeting a supplier,” he explains.
He’s now putting in his application for chartered status, and is looking forward to continuing his rise through Rolls-Royce’s ranks.
Hlaing would definitely recommend a graduate scheme to up and coming engineers, but also gives some more general advice to those considering an engineering career.
Go, look, see,” he says. “This means see if you can find out more about what a company does, get an understanding of what engineering is. I remember when I was at school, my perception of manufacturing engineering was – and it's what my friends think now – that I stand in a pool of oil all day and I wear overalls. I do anything but stand in oil and tend to wear a suit or a polo shirt to work.
“Basically, get informed. Speak to the careers service, local companies and ask the IET,” he advises.