Jade Babbington ditched the academic route to bag her dream job as a qualified aircraft engineer with GE Aviation. In National Apprenticeship Week she tells us why she loves making things fly.
I always wanted to be a scientist. I collected the Horrible Science magazines and loved the fact that they were filled with information that tried to explain how everything worked and why things happen the way they do.
But I didn’t really understand what engineering was until I was at high school, when I realised that the practical application of science to solve problems constantly develops. Engineering will always be around because there is always something that needs solving, designing and making.
I left school at 17, after completing A-Levels in maths, chemistry and French. I successfully applied to study a masters in engineering at Cardiff University. At the time, the majority of my friends were opting for university and I thought an academic path was the only route I could take in order to fulfil my dream.
But I learned, by just six months into my course, that lecture theatres and seminars were not for me. Reading journals, lecture notes and working through textbooks was not enjoyable, and not suited to the hands-on learning approach that I had always enjoyed throughout school.
I did work experience at GE Aviation and loved the working environment and the fact that you could contribute and be a part of something much bigger in the grand scheme of things. That you could look to the sky and wonder whether it was one of the planes you’ve worked on, that you may have had a hand in making it fly. (It’s super-cheesy I know, but doesn’t it make you feel good to know you had a part to play?)
While on work experience I became aware of the apprenticeship programme and the opportunities available to me. The apprenticeship programme was three years long, and by the end of it I would be a fully qualified aircraft engineer, able to carry out maintenance and repair work on some of the world’s largest jet engines.
I applied and was successfully hired as an engineering apprentice, alongside 24 others.
I spent the first year of my apprenticeship at college, gaining the knowledge I required in order to work at the GE Aviation site. I enjoyed gaining the skills and knowledge I needed for my future role, and it was great getting to know the other apprentices.
“I loved the fact that you could contribute and be a part of something much bigger in the grand scheme of things. That you could look to the sky and wonder whether it was one of the planes you’ve worked on, that you may have had a hand in making it fly.”
I spent the next two years rotating around the business, spending time stripping engines, repairing parts, building and inspecting modules. I even had the opportunity to work on the GE90, the world’s most powerful aircraft engine, alongside the GP7200, the engine that powers the new double decker planes.
I loved getting to know every aspect of the business, meeting new people and learning new things every day, with the hands-on approach I enjoy so much. My apprenticeship enabled me to gain the engineering skills I required to qualify as an aircraft engineer but I also developed a huge amount of soft skills.
I became confident working within a team and with people I had not worked with before. I also improved my communication skills and leadership skills, which I acquired by taking part in the company’s corporate social responsibility programme.
I also trained as a STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) ambassador, and had the opportunity to spend time inspiring, motivating and educating students across Wales about the opportunities available to them within a STEM career. Being able to go out into the local community and be a role model to young people was an incredible feeling, and something I still enjoy doing today.
On completion of my apprenticeship, I was offered a full-time role at GE Aviation but my learning hasn’t stopped there. The apprenticeship has encouraged me to continue to actively push myself and I am currently undertaking a foundation degree in business studies. The balance between academic learning and practical work in my day-to-day role is perfect for me. I am also training to become a qualified Apprentice NVQ Assessor, which enables me to support new apprentices coming into the business and ensure they have the same fantastic experience I had.
Doing an engineering apprenticeship has been the best decision I have made. The structured programme enhanced my technical capabilities and enabled me to develop a robust skillset. I knew I always wanted to be an engineer, but I didn’t know the best way to become one until I took a chance and started an apprenticeship. Now a fully qualified aircraft engineer, I am really excited about my future.
Jade and GE support the WISE campaign to encourage more women into STEM careers.
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