From education to employment

We have the opportunity to develop the skills we really need

The time has come to re-orientate our education system towards technical skills and apprenticeships says BAE Systems’ Tania Gandamihardja.

With a new Prime Minister and administration, educators and employers have a very real opportunity to tackle the shortage of key skills in the UK once and for all.

By working together and drawing on our shared expertise we can jointly develop, coordinate and embed new education and training programmes, like T Levels and apprenticeships, which will help young people gain hands-on technical skills for high value and fulfilling jobs.

It’s time to prioritise technical skills

For companies like BAE Systems, STEM, (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills are critical. I often describe BAE Systems as a ‘skills enterprise’ because the military aircraft, submarines, frigates and cyber and defence systems we design and build at our 50+ sites across the UK are absolutely reliant on the knowledge and expertise of people with specialist technical skills.

We also describe these skills as ‘sovereign’ due to their importance in maintaining the UK’s security. The equipment and services we deliver support our armed forces in defending the UK’s interests at home and abroad.

We currently have thousands of highly-skilled vacancies from project management to pipe fitting that offer competitive salaries and a chance to work on some of the world’s biggest military and engineering programmes.

It’s not just in the defence and aerospace sectors that STEM skills are sought after. According to The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s 2021 Survey of Skills and Demand in Industry, 49% of engineering businesses were experiencing difficulties in the skills available to them in the external labour market. Coupled with this is an urgent need to examine the skills required for new types of jobs in the digital and green economies and gear our education system towards delivering them.

Unfortunately some key technical skills in the UK have been in short supply for some time – and this includes nuclear engineering skills, systems engineering, naval architecture and combat systems skills. Some of the skills we need at BAE Systems, such as welding and pipe fitting, also require unique expertise and can take many years to develop. This is why we run apprenticeship programmes: so we can ‘grow’ our own specialist and sought-after skills.

Apprenticeships are a proven route to success

Currently, we are training over 3,000 apprentices – more than at any time in BAE Systems’ history. Over the past number of weeks, we have taken on 1,067 new apprentices, most of whom are from the north of England and Scotland.

These apprenticeships support social mobility too. In 2021, 26% of our apprentice intake from England came from disadvantaged communities and a significant number of our current executives began their career as an apprentice with our company or at another engineering organisation.

The structure of our apprentice programmes also enables us to support the most disadvantaged in society. Our most significant social mobility project is Movement to Work, a programme supported by youth charities including The Prince’s Trust through which BAE Systems provides around 100 work placements for young, unemployed people every year. We have also supported the government’s Kickstart programme, which funded employers to create jobs for 16-24 year olds on Universal Credit. We recruited 32 young people from Kickstart of whom 21 went into apprenticeships.

So, our experience is that high quality apprenticeships are enormously beneficial for both young people, employers and society more generally. It’s for this reason that in the UK we must all work together to robustly challenge outdated perceptions of apprenticeships and technical-based training.

While we have seen increasing numbers of schools, teachers, parents and careers services embracing and endorsing apprenticeships, we know too that a lack of awareness about the value of apprenticeships, and indeed, a level of intellectual snobbery persists. This is not surprising when a succession of governments from the late 1990s and 2000s steered young people towards universities – even though it has left many with degrees that haven’t equipped them with the skills employers need.

As tuition fees and inflation continue to rise, we owe it to all our young people to support them in gaining employable skills and in making an informed choice between a high quality apprenticeship – which can include the opportunity to gain a degree apprenticeship – or to take an academic pathway via university entrance.

A reorientation of our education systems towards apprenticeships and recognition of the value of apprenticeships at all levels of society will surely help the UK prosper, compete and maintain our place in the world.

Tania Gandamihardja is the Group HR Director at BAE Systems

If you are interested in joining BAE Systems as an apprentice, graduate or employee then visit

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