Bombardier Aerospace, Vice-President and General Manager
How has your company engaged with young people and the community to improve the image of manufacturing?
Bombardier Aerospace, Belfast has an extensive educational outreach to primary and post-primary schools in Northern Ireland. Managed by a full-time education liaison officer, its key objectives are to encourage pupils to think of science and technology as exciting and creative processes of discovery and invention, and to generate interest in careers that use science and technology,
The programme comprises a wide variety of practical initiatives and interactive activities including an annual competition challenging schoolchildren to design and build a self-propelled model aircraft.
Bombardier has signed up to the STEMNET initiative, which is now an integral part of its educational programme. Since November 2011, we have worked closely with W5 (an interactive discovery centre in Belfast) to provide more than 50 STEM Ambassadors – from apprentices to senior management – who have been going out to schools promoting science, technology, engineering and maths.
We have also been involved in supporting Women into Science, Engineering and Construction (WISE) for a number of years. The company has developed a WISE programme, in conjunction with St. Louise’s Comprehensive College and Stranmillis University College, both in Belfast, which offers girls an insight to the aerospace sector as part of their lessons in Design and Technology.
In addition to specific company initiatives, Bombardier maintains strong links with education through its support of work experience placements, mock interviews, careers talks and fairs, and membership of Business Education partnerships.
What have you personally done to improve youth engagement with manufacturing?
I am a strong supporter of our Modern Apprenticeship programme, the largest of its kind on the island of Ireland. We recruit around 40 apprentices annually, the majority of whom are young people.
I have chaired an employers’ forum in the West Belfast and Greater Shankill area of Belfast for around 10 years. Sponsored by Bombardier, it was formed to help the long term unemployed, many of whom are young, in one of the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland. The forum comprises employers from a range of sectors and Bombardier, which leads the engineering sector, developed a pre-employment foundation course in engineering skills in response to a shortage of these skills in West Belfast and Greater Shankill.
The course is run at Belfast Metropolitan College and usually takes 26 weeks to complete. However, those with no formal entrance qualifications can take an additional 13 weeks to learn essential skills in Maths and English. At the end of the course, successful trainees receive an NVQ level 2 qualification in Performing Engineering Operations and they usually get jobs or join apprenticeships with Bombardier or other engineering companies.
This programme has been running for around nine years and has helped more than 200 people secure employment. Not only does this initiative ensure we are assisting local communities, it also helps to increase the pool of people with basic engineering skills in Belfast. This means that Bombardier and other engineering companies within the employers’ forum have a better chance of recruiting local people with relevant skills.
I was involved with the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition 2010, which provided selected students with the opportunity to develop the business knowledge they need to turn their innovative ideas into commercial opportunities. I was one of a number of mentors who helped students gain practical business knowledge through a series of workshops and master-classes. The overall objective of the exhibition was to stimulate passion for science technology, maths and engineering in students across Ireland.
When time permits, I attend prize-giving ceremonies in local schools, which usually involves giving careers advice and inspiring young people to consider the wide variety of job opportunities in both manufacturing and engineering.
I’m now an enthusiastic Industry Champion for Make it in Great Britain.
What does your company, and stakeholders in the manufacturing sector generally, need to do more of to increase interest in careers in manufacturing and engineering?
As the largest manufacturing employer in Northern Ireland, the company is committed to providing practical training and development opportunities.
We have to continually invest in training and have spent around £150m since 1989. Training an apprentice is an undertaking for any employer but the cost in the aerospace sector is significant. Government is encouraging apprenticeships but we would like to see it do more to help companies in the manufacturing sector who are adding real value to the economy.
As mentioned above, Bombardier has an extensive outreach to schools across Northern Ireland and we support, where appropriate, their delivery of the science and technology curriculum. However, in terms of careers guidance, we would like to see secondary schools making pupils more aware of the wide variety of opportunities and career paths available within our sector.
We have also been involved with Sentinus, which works with schools and colleges throughout Northern Ireland to deliver programmes which promote engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
One such programme is Team R&D, where companies set an actual research and development project for a team of A-level students. With assistance from engineers, which includes on-site visits, the students develop solutions to their problems.
The recently opened Northern Ireland Advanced Composites and Engineering Centre (NIACE), based at Bombardier, is an example of how business and academia can work together. The construction of the centre has been funded by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, Invest Northern Ireland and Bombardier Aerospace. A not-for-profit organisation, NIACE is based on collaborative partnerships between industry and universities, which will support manufacturing companies and their supply chains to improve competitiveness.
Manufacturing companies from across Northern Ireland need to be encouraged to become involved in the centre, which is capable of hosting up to 120 research and technical staff.