CHANGING career or opting out of further education may seem like gamble to some.

However, steering another course is exactly what apprentices Mark Donlevy and Sophie Rowan did.

With the coronavirus pandemic bringing even more uncertainty in the jobs market and the university route in the new normal taking on a different shape, becoming an apprentice could be seen as a clear alternative.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, BAE Systems is moving forward with the recruitment of a record number of apprentices.

More than 9,000 people across the UK applied for the 800 apprenticeship roles during February. Measures were put in place including virtual interviews, which enabled them to restart their recruitment drive with almost 2,000 shortlisted candidates.

Sophie Rowan, 19, from Kilmarnock in Ayrshire, is going into her final year in project management, and chose the apprentice route over a place at university.

Ms Rowan, who is base at BAE Systems Scotstoun yard in Glasgow, said: “I always knew I wanted to leave school early. I didn’t really enjoy my school years and had begun to apply for university places while in fifth year.

“I was also working in a fast food restaurant part time and by chance someone said why don’t you look for an apprentice position. I really didn’t know much about it but discovered BAE Systems had a programme.

“I did end up with a conditional offer if I passed my highers and at the same time I applied to BAE. It was then I realised the opportunities to be had. I was interested in business studies and the chance to work and study project management appealed to me. For me there was no dilemma when I ended up with a choice of an apprenticeship or going to university. I knew I wanted to take on the apprenticeship.”

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Ms Rowan is now entering her third and final year of the apprenticeship and has never looked back.

She added: “I am still getting a qualification while working in an office environment. I am able to earn while I learn. If I had gone to uni I might still haven been studying long hours and then and working part time as well. I have never looked back at the decision I made.”

Seeking a better work life balance with a young family, Mark Donlevy, 38, changed his career in his early thirties saw him come full circle.

He had started out at university as a teenager and went on to be a successful nightclub manager. Now, the father-of-two is about to complete his final year apprenticeship in combat systems engineering.


Mark Donlevy is a final year apprentice

Mr Donlevy, who lives in Glasgow, said: “I went to Napier University initially when leaving school to study engineering but dropped out at the age of 19 to become a nightclub manager. I had been working part time and had the chance to progress and took it. What teenager wouldn’t want to run a nightclub.”

He ran Musselburgh Race Course for a year and worked for a firm involved in the Queen’s garden party at the Palace of Holyrood House.

“I enjoyed my career and had some fantastic opportunities,” added Mr Donlevy. “However, with a young family the hours no longer suited and I put myself through an HND in electrical engineering. I started to look into apprenticeships but I didn’t know if age would be a barrier and it turned out it wasn’t. I secured a place with BAE Systems. It has been mixture of studying and placements and I got the chance to spend time working on the Prince of Wales aircraft carrier in Rosyth and then did seven weeks of sea trials on it. It has been a fantastic experience. I think this apprenticeship has given me the career I was meant to have and it turns out age hasn’t been a problem. I have ended up trying both uni and an apprenticeship.

“The difference for me now is that with this role I can learn from experts in their field every day and it is very hands on.”

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Charles Woodburn, Chief Executive, BAE Systems is which involved in the programme to develop the Type 26 Frigates for the Royal Navy, said they are pleased to be helping to create new jobs.

He said: “Getting people back to work and creating new jobs, especially for younger people, is a national priority and we’re pleased to play our part in supporting the UK’s economic recovery. The contribution apprentices make to our business is vital in maintaining our ability to continue to deliver cutting edge technologies which protect national security. We’ve worked hard to adapt our application and training processes to allow education to continue, whilst protecting the health and wellbeing of our employees and new recruits.”


BAE Systems has welcomed apprentices despite lockdown

Recent research from the Resolution Foundation found that those born in the late 1990s are expected to be hardest hit by the current crisis. Over the last few weeks, BAE’s careers teams have developed new ways to enable candidates - most of whom are aged between 16 and 19 - to be interviewed safely and remotely.

The successful applicants will begin their careers on one of more than 25 apprenticeship training programmes in our Air, Maritime and Electronic Systems divisions, with the majority joining from September to January.

Throughout lockdown, early careers teams have supported more than 1,500 apprentices providing them with a virtual learning environment to continue their training. A new remote approach to end point assessment ensures apprentices can complete their training and transition to their first permanent roles within the Company.

They have recently introduced a new graduate programme, with multiple intakes through the year and are committed to the plan to recruit approximately 250 graduates between September this year and June 2021.