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Grads with green initiatives thrive at BAE Systems

18 Apr 2023, 14:40

Graduates with a passion for sustainability found that they could make a real difference to the world at BAE Systems. Read about their experiences below to find out more.

A picture showing BAE employees in greenery, signifying sustainability

Sustainability is featuring ever more prominently on the list of must-haves that job-seeking students are looking for when they’re researching employers. BAE Systems graduates give us their insights into some of the projects they work on that are making a difference to the world and what it’s like being part of a big technology, development and manufacturing company. They also offered up some tips for interview success based on their experiences.

There’s a new range of green initiatives being developed at BAE Systems, and it’s often the most recent employees that are spearheading ideas to ensure that climate change, carbon zero and eco-friendly practices stay firmly at the forefront of the company’s ethos.

Big ideas to solve big problems

At school, Muskan was all geared up to go into dentistry when she had a change of heart and decided to look at business degrees instead. The start of her career at BAE Systems has already seen her presenting to senior leadership, networking with executives and giving feedback on early careers, as well as passing the first level of Association of Project Management professional exams.

Now a Project Management Officer graduate working in the submarine sector, Muskan took a pragmatic view to future employment because she was a final year student in the middle of a pandemic. ‘I didn’t want to work in London and take the Tube, so I looked for jobs based elsewhere in the country. BAE Systems ticked a lot of my boxes – I could drive to the office, it was a massive company and it was the project management role I wanted to go into,’ explains Muskan.

The climate change crisis piqued Muskan’s interest in the Sustainability Working Group’s (SWG) call for project managers working in a stretch role. ‘BAE Systems likes you to dedicate around 5% of your weekly workload to stretch projects, because they offer exposure and variation outside your day-to-day role. I work in submarines, but a stretch might offer exposure to say, the air sector, or land,’ she explains.

She helped plan the 2022 sustainability week, a project that started in 2021. ‘They wanted project leads and one of the roles was in podcasts. I put myself forward because it sounded interesting and was something I’d never done before,’ says Muskan. ‘Now I’m working on the Big Ideas Group. Because we can’t do everything, we’ve filtered through a lot of very interesting sustainability suggestions and ideas from our colleagues and have shortlisted those we can act on. We have organised webinars around the chosen big ideas but just because some haven’t been taken forward at this point doesn’t mean we won’t be able to in future,’ she adds.

Growth of the SWG

As a native Glaswegian who studied chemical engineering at Strathclyde University, Product Safety Engineer Fiona says COP26 made a massive impact when it was hosted in Glasgow. 'It was mobbed!’ she says of her home city. Fiona’s career journey into engineering started because STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) were her strongest subjects and the sustainability agenda was already on her radar. She initially took on a role at BAE Systems in safety engineering but it was a stretch assignment that introduced her to the business’ sustainability goals.

‘I volunteered to be a facilitator at a business sustainability forum and from that got involved with the SWG. Lots of projects have been organised through the SWG and I like the variety it adds,’ Fiona says. ‘When I first joined the group it was quite small but it has really taken off. We’ve gone from group calls with about 10 or 12 of us back then to as many as 100 of us now.’

Fiona was also involved with BAE Systems’ sustainability week, which features guest and internal presenters and is attended by different companies and universities. In a twist of fate, Covid-19 restrictions meant making events virtual so it became accessible to employees across the globe.

‘We had thousands of people either tuned in or watching the sessions afterwards and that’s when it hit me that the interest in sustainability extends all over the company, it’s not contained within this little group. I think that’s when everybody realised, “oh it’s not just us, there are many projects and now we can band together”.’

Billie chairs the SWG, something she combines with her day job as a Sustainability Executive within environmental, social and governance (ESG) at Head Office. Her team reports the company’s sustainability activities to external bodies. ‘We also benchmark, strategise and liaise with the wider sustainability teams within BAE Systems to meet our ambitious sustainability agenda,’ Billie explains. ‘As part of SWG, I create and manage a number of projects that support sustainability initiatives within the company.’ One of those, #BigSwitch, involved employees pledging to make environmentally conscious ‘switches’ in their lifestyle, for which BAE Systems donated a tree to the Woodland Trust for planting.

Billie had a passion for environmental projects before she joined BAE Systems and admits to having far too many house plants and a passion for animals. ‘I have worked hard to minimise my personal impact on the world around us for years,’ she says. Her involvement with the SWG started after she quizzed the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) on a podcast. ‘I asked him about our plans for net-zero and our conversation was then used to kick off BAE’s “Race to NetZero”. It was following this discussion that the then chair of the SWG reached out to me.’

Billie started her career as an apprentice working in hardware engineering and managing component obsolescence across a number of projects at BAE’s electronics systems site. ‘Of course, obsolescence management is an inherently sustainable practice because you are minimising waste and ensuring the longevity and lifecycle of a product. I was able to celebrate the transferable skills I learned within engineering to secure my role within the sustainability team,’ she says.

BAE Systems’ air sector working for net-zero

Michelle, who heads up the net-zero project in BAE Systems’ air sector, started being concerned about the environment when she was studying chemical and energy engineering at university. After graduating and finding a role within a start-up she returned to study for a masters, feeling she could achieve more change by working for a big company. A summer placement at BAE Systems led Michelle on to the systems engineering graduate scheme before she became part of the product environmental team. ‘Most people in the air sector have a degree in aerospace or mechanical engineering and I never really came in thinking “I want to apply my sustainability passion to aircraft”, but I knew I wanted to do something that made a difference and reduced my impact on the environment,’ she says.

‘My current role, working as the Technology Lead for net-zero seems like a perfect fit for my career goals,’ she explains. ‘New areas have opened up at BAE Systems and there are more opportunities than ever. I work within the Chief Technologist’s office, which is responsible for air sector technologies, and my role specifically is looking at what technologies we need between now and 2050 to achieve our net-zero goals. We have pledged to be carbon neutral across our operations – that’s scope 1 and scope 2 emissions (direct and indirect emissions) by 2030 and total emissions by 2050. That’s a big task!’

Michelle’s job also involves calculating emissions over the lifecycle of a BAE Systems product. ‘In a nutshell my role is to determine what tech we need to ensure we get to net-zero before 2050,’ Michelle explains, adding that she collaborates with customers and end-users as well as suppliers to keep track. ‘We need to look at how a product is being used, including the flying hours, what happens to its various parts at the end of its life, and what happens during maintenance, training and the testing phases – so it’s not a straightforward task.’

Aviation fuel is a high-profile polluter requiring fossil fuels, but research is going into viable alternatives. ‘Biofuels, hydrogen, synthetic petroleum – we are considering all the options that are out there,’ says Michelle, adding that supply chain volatility, price and availability, are further considerations.

The company works in partnership with universities and the Catapult Network to research and determine ways to cut carbon emissions. ‘The business is putting the money in now, so it is a great time to join and to be in a sustainability role, because your projects get financial backing and support from senior leaders - you’re making a different to the world too,’ says Michelle.

Testing technology for the environment

Aappteshaa’s year-long industrial placement in the software department at BAE Systems sees her working on carbon offsetting projects. She is studying electronic and computer engineering at Sheffield University, spurred into it by a love of coding and programming that started when she was about nine.

‘I’m from Mauritius and one of the reasons I applied for my work placement was because I noticed how diverse BAE Systems was. I knew that I would get to work with people from so many different functions who would offer different perspectives. I could also see that BAE Systems was evolving software with many different layers of digital intelligence.’

While being on a placement she has also been encouraged to take on stretch projects. ‘The company wants to see the holistic development of its early careers group,’ she explains. ‘I already had an interest in sustainability and as part of the upcoming generation I feel a responsibility to do something about the environment. I do what I can on a daily basis, for example, by taking public transport and minimising food waste, but that is individualistic and now that I am part of a group in a company it has made me even more passionate about sustainability.’

Part of Aappteshaa’s sustainability project has been finding out which technologies can help BAE Systems offset carbon. ‘There are so many technologies evolving to capture carbon in natural ways, with one such being planting more trees,’ she says. ‘But we are also looking at technologies that can exceed the benefits of planting trees, maybe by taking up more carbon dioxide, for example. There are so many evolving technologies and brilliant ideas and you just think “Wow!” when you come across them. If people are passionate about sustainability and working in a STEM role they can drive technology to push sustainability further.’

Bridging the gap with shared projects

Owen graduated from the University of Bath in 2020 after studying for an MEng in aerospace engineering focused on the development of sustainable aircraft systems. With recruitment stalled in the midst of the pandemic, and the jobs market in turmoil, he didn’t get to join BAE Systems until January 2021.

‘I felt that I could make more of a difference in the aerospace world than by using my interest in the media.’ he says. ‘Out of the blue, in October 2020, I got an email congratulating me for getting an interview with BAE Systems, which I think I’d applied for the year before. I started as a graduate Systems Engineer in January 2021 and was placed in the fast jet support team, working on the Typhoon aircraft.’

As an undergraduate Owen had been involved in a competition to design a nine-seater electric aircraft for operation in the Scottish Highlands, where local island-hopping journeys perfectly match the short-range limitations of electric aircraft. Even then Owen felt that a big company getting behind that kind of technology would make a massive difference. Since joining BAE Systems and working on the Typhoon he has been collaborating with around 3,000 other people across countries and companies – an eye-opener that took some adjustment.

Still keen to get sustainable projects into production he signed up for the SWG and the Next Gen Projects environmental team. ‘I now work in the electric products team, developing sustainable solutions for air platforms for defence and adjacent markets. When I look back on my degree and my skills, I see I could have used them in a different way but I wanted to make the world a better place by helping to tackle the major challenge of our era. It sounds very altruistic, but it is what I had to do – it was ethically right.’

Tips for success and insights for the future

  • Aappteshaa : ‘I recommend looking at roles in BAE Systems software and technology. Air is the biggest function in the company, but look at other areas. You get a lot of support as an early careers employee, not just from your managers, but also from colleagues, apprentices and previous graduates.’
  • Muskan : ‘Develop your confidence. It may sound obvious, but confidence opens up opportunities to “fake it until you make it” if you’re not a naturally confident person – just put yourself forward. It’s also important to network – not just with executives, but with graduates, apprentices and people at all levels.’
  • Fiona : ‘Although I didn’t apply to BAE Systems solely on the basis of sustainability, it is a top priority among graduates now. If you’re looking to get involved with environmental projects, you will be given opportunities to do that here alongside developing your career.’
  • Owen : ‘Do your background research so you understand as much about the industry and BAE Systems' competitors as you can. Try to understand how that feeds into defence, government projects and the civil world.’
  • Michelle : ‘If you have a determination to work in sustainability there are courses you can study at university, but you can also get involved in your passion through work placements, internships or student groups. If you have drive and the attributes of teamwork, communication and collaboration you can learn other skills as part of your job.’
  • Billie : ‘Hone the following skills – passion, research, communication, innovation.’

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