The Manufacturer talks apprenticeships and career advice with Mark Lawson, senior prototype engineer with Lockheed Martin UK.
Why did an apprenticeship appeal to you?
From a young age I had an interest in taking things apart and seeing how they worked, so a career in engineering seemed like a good choice. I got decent grades at school but quickly worked out that sixth form and university were not for me.
I wanted to start earning so I could buy a guitar, get my first car and be more self-sufficient without relying on my parents for support. I saw an apprenticeship as the perfect fit – earn money, gain independence, and train to be an engineer.
How has your career progressed from starting as an apprentice to where you are now?
I joined Hunting Engineering Ltd, now Lockheed Martin, in 1990 as a mechanical engineering apprentice. It was a four-year scheme, including day release to college to get my HNC.
The time was made up of one-year engineering training, 18 months in different departments learning all about how a company is run, and 18 months in the structural and environmental laboratory (SEL), learning a wide variety of different trial and instrumentation disciplines.
After, I was taken on as a test engineer in the SEL. I took a break from the company in 1998 and when I returned a couple of years later I took my first steps into management, heading up the SEL. I now also look after the prototype model shop; assembly integration test; materials laboratory, and the engineering apprenticeship scheme.
Together they make up the hugely successful engineering technical facilities department. We give practical support to the site’s wider engineering community and I’m responsible for assignment of staff, role fulfilment and career growth for the 24 members of the team.
What is your involvement with the current apprenticeship scheme?
At the moment I manage 14 engineering apprentices. Having been an apprentice myself, I understand the support they need and I work closely with them to ensure they are valued and able to develop, both professionally and personally.
I’ve seen young people transform from shy school leavers into confident, capable engineers. We have developed the scheme so that our apprentices now have the opportunity to gain a BSc in engineering – finishing with five years’ experience, a degree and no student debt.
It’s a fantastic way to start their careers. I’m very proud of the Lockheed Martin apprenticeship scheme and I believe it offers an exceptional opportunity for any young person.
How has starting out as an apprentice benefitted your career?
I became a well-rounded engineer, with a comprehensive understanding of other disciplines and a range of knowledge that is critical in helping me manage my team.
Starting out as an apprentice has also made me loyal to my employer. I’ve been able to build a career through the ranks and that is incredibly satisfying.
What advice would you give to someone considering an apprenticeship?
Do it. It is an excellent way to learn and earn at the same time. You will meet people who can support you, and as well as getting your qualifications you’ll also gain experience of the working world that you won’t get anywhere else at a young age.
There are different academic levels of apprenticeships, so you can step off at a level that suits you and still have a very successful career. There is no limit to where you can get to from starting out as an apprentice. It is such a strong foundation.