Aerospace apprenticeships

Aerospace apprenticeships are the cheapest and easiest means of breaking into the aerospace world.

  • Your education is sponsored in part or in full by an aerospace company (or group of companies).
  • Part of your education is very practical – actually making aircraft/spacecraft parts and assembling them. Often you get paid for that – not a lot, but when you’re still a teenager, it seems like plenty, so it doesn’t occur to you to complain!
  • When your formal training is finished, you waltz right into a full-time permanent job with one of the sponsoring companies.
  • You don’t get a university-accredited degree, but often the company will sponsor you to continue studying on the side towards a degree.

There. You’ve just started your career early, and got a head start contributing to your retirement pension! It’s all cool, right?

Well, probably. Maybe. I think.

I’ve worked with many aerospace engineers who took precisely this route. Some of them have managed to retire quite comfortably well before the usual 65. I knew one who started as an apprentice at 16, and had to quit work before he’d even turned 50, on grounds of ill health. He was able to collect his full pension right away. Brilliant!

Why then do I sound a warning note?

Here’s what troubles me: When you take the aerospace apprenticeship route, you are, to use the old proverb, hitching your cart to someone else’s horse. That someone else is, The Company, or more precisely, the company shareholders. The company shareholders have hired a management team to manage the affairs of the company in their interests. Those managers will, if they are conscientious, do just that, or if they are not, they will manage the company to suit their own interests.

Their interests. Not yours.

They do a deal with you, they pay you, and contribute to your pension fund, in order to secure your time and your skills for the benefit of the company shareholders.

None of this is new. It’s been like this for the last 150 years of the industrial era. And it’s worked quite well for both sides, for the most part.

The world is changing very, very fast. The old models of working, of doing business, are not working so well any more. You have only to peruse a copy of Wired magazine, or Techcrunch, or read some articles posted on LinkedIn, to realize this.

The aerospace industry, because of its safety-critical nature, is generally one of the last sectors to adopt new methods and ways of working. By which time, they’re new for aerospace, but quite old for the rest of the world.

So what worries me about aerospace apprenticeships is that you can be lulled into a false sense of security. The Company knows what it’s doing, the order book is full, the Company will take care of me, right? The Company never puts a foot wrong.

Even in a world without such rapid change, where every knows the rules, and everyone plays by the rules . . . . . that isn’t true. Companies do screw up, and have to lay off people whom everyone thought would never be laid off. So in a world of Very Rapid Change . . . . . placing your trust in the Company is downright foolish.

And if you’ve taken the aerospace apprenticeships route, if you’ve hitched your cart to the proverbial horse, you could find yourself laid off, with a skill set that is no longer wanted anywhere, a long way from being able to collect your pension.

Not good.

I still thing the aerospace apprenticeships route is a good one if you definitely know that aerospace is where you want to be for a long time. It’s the fastest and most cost-effective way into the industry. And because many aerospace firms now are worried about replacing their old retiring engineers, aerospace apprenticeships are now plentifully available again. (In some countries, not all.)

But take the aerospace apprenticeship route with your eyes open, your ears tuned to the news, and your wits about you. And have an Emergency Escape Plan.

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