BAE Systems announced a record intake of apprentices and graduates earlier this year.

With a full order book, the company will be recruiting 850 apprentices across the UK plus an additional 400 graduate roles with more than 50 different programmes for candidates to apply to.

FINN spoke to Richard Hamer, MBE, the Education & Skills HR Director at BAE Systems, about the opportunities for young people and the challenges of recruitment during lockdown.

With an order book which includes nationally significant projects such as Tempest, the next generation of future combat aircraft and next submarine Dreadnought, Hamer said the company had an “absolute requirement for future skills” and the UK’s need to train more apprentices has previously been described by BAE CEO Charles Woodburn as a “national priority.”

In person interviews switch to video

COVID-19 has posed challenges for recruiters from issues such as school and college closures, lack of exam results and restrictions meaning no face-to-face interviews.

Hamer said: “We did have a existential problem last March, because we were due to do two and a half thousand interviews face to face. And we had to create a virtual recruitment process. So we did that for using video on demand. So young people were a bit like I’m doing here, having conversations virtually to pre-scripted questions. And then separately as we’re doing here, they do interviews and totally to you. So but it worked, it worked well. And we had a good process.”

Hamer added that the company was using grade predictions from schools in their selection process in lieu of grades which would have been achieved through sitting exam papers.

Nurturing school leavers to create skills base

With a number of highly specialised roles, BAE Systems focuses on training people to ensure they are competent to take the company’s technology forward. He explained: “We’ve got people, my age, who will be retiring, that we need to replace, we’ve also got very complex skills, which we just can’t go out to the market and recruit people who are either aerospace dynamicists or deep aerospace engineers, or for software or nuclear engineers to work on submarines, we can’t get enough of those people the right skills in the 30-35 [age bracket], so it makes complete business sense for us to take people you know at 17-19, whatever the age range, out of school or college and then build them and nurture the create those skills.”

Hamer added the best way to reduce the skills shortage an encourage more students to study STEM skills was for industry to work in partnership with schools. “I don’t think it’s something that schools can do by themselves. I think we in industry have to be very close partners in helping to inform and make those decisions. I think schools have a lot of uncertainty at the moment about career opportunities – they need to impress upon the young people that those opportunities are there. Getting an apprenticeship and being in a training programme is a great safety net, and ensures a guarantee of a job that you’ve got later in life. So that’s good.”

BAE Systems is also encouraging students into work experience, offering between 400-500 placements each year. The company has STEM ambassadors who visit and support local schools by running projects.

“When they start to think when they’re a bit older, at 10-11, about apprenticeships or university, then in the back of their mind they have that kind of context and inspiration that this is something which actually is a real route forward, and where there’s going to be a good job, and an exciting job, involved in things that matter for the nation, and also things that these young people will be inspired to work in.”