Phil Burns, Engineering Manager, BAE Systems Submarine Solutions, took up his craft apprenticeship at a time when they were a major entry route to a career in manufacturing and engineering. Thirty-nine years later, he is due to meet with the Queen to receive an MBE for services to the defence industry. Here he talks to TM about his recent recognition and skills for success.
TM: What first attracted you to an engineering career and what has kept you in it?
PB: The majority of people in [Barrow-in-Furness] took on the apprenticeship when I started. Once employed, I was identified as having enough potential to be a drawing office candidate and move into design, which opened up new career opportunities for me. If you wanted to take it on, there was a route to progress through the drawing offices and into advanced positions.
I am passionate about designing and helping manufacture, turning a design into a product that works. An engineer is always looking for ways to keep on improving a design, it never gets dull.
TM: UK manufacturing has declined over the past twenty years but is experiencing something of a renaissance. What have you seen of this trend?
PB: In the industry’s heyday, a lot of people came into the yard and industry. If you had an apprenticeship from the shipyard, you could go and work anywhere. There was a period when we didn’t take on as many apprentices, but there is now fierce competition for the places available.
TM: Would you recommend a career in engineering to young people now?
PB: Absolutely. You see a product go from a piece of paper to a physical item that has got your work in it. In shipbuilding, we are building a community that goes to sea and will be out there for 25 years. I take great pride in that. Engineering is a challenging and interesting role for someone to get into.
TM: What have been most rewarding highlights in your career so far?
- 1) Getting into the drawing office.
- 2) Working on my first ship as a designer, HMS INVINCIBLE.
- 3) When we began using CAD designs I was one of Pathfinder Team Members that brought the technology into the drawing offices.
TM: What technological innovations have changed the way you do your job and how?
PB: We tended to work more as an independent shipyard in the past. Enabled by CAD, I recently worked on a project collaborating with other shipyards right across the country.
TM: What are you working on at the moment and what skills do you use?
PB: I’m currently working with other organisations to design future submarines. I use project management and communication skills to ensure that the best idea is used. Listening becomes increasingly vital as you go higher up in management.
TM: What does it mean to be awarded an MBE for your work?
PB: It came as quite a surprise that I had been awarded an MBE in the New Years Honours List 2012. My wife saw the look on my face after I opened my letter to inform me of MBE and asked what was up. It was a nice surprise and a reward for a job I enjoy. My involvement in new technology, engineering and working with other organisations were the main reasons behind the recognition. The most challenging bit of it all is that I have a wife and two daughters who are more concerned about the outfits they will wear at the ceremony!