My graduate job at BAE Systems: ships, support and secondments
When you speak to graduate combat systems engineer Emelia Galkowska about her employer, her enthusiasm is contagious. ‘I’d definitely recommend BAE Systems because of the opportunity it gives you to explore what interests you and what you are good at,’ she says. ‘When you graduate I think it’s common to have a feeling of slight panic about what happens next. BAE Systems’ programmes are flexible: you can try different things out and there are avenues for you to take what you enjoy further.’
Emelia first became aware of BAE Systems’ opportunities part-way through her MSci in physics at the University of Birmingham. Googling for physics internships found her a 12-week summer placement working on the Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carriers, the biggest warships ever built for the Royal Navy. ‘I knew nothing about naval ships when I started, but I loved it,’ she recalls. ‘Ships are complex; you learn a lot in a short space of time. If there was ever anything I could get involved with outside my core role, my manager made sure I did. The decision to join BAE Systems as a graduate was easy.’
How is the graduate development programme structured and what has Emelia done?
Emelia’s graduate development programme comprises four six-month placements and includes ‘stretch’ assignments working across the business to develop additional skills. She has been encouraged to work towards professional qualifications, attend training on technical and non-technical skills and access mentoring opportunities. Emelia’s first placement saw her return to working on the Aircraft Carrier project with the same manager as she had on her summer placement, focusing specifically on the night vision goggles compliance with the ship.
Next, she went from Surrey to Glasgow to work on the marine systems of the Type 26 Global Combat Ships, analysing risk. Emelia was then seconded to BAE Systems’ land business. The business had embarked on partnerships with five universities for research purposes and Emelia was based at her old university to represent BAE Systems.
Her stretch assignment involved organising workshops at BAE Systems’ Graduate Conference, which is held every two years and attended by the company’s senior leadership, including the chief executive officer. As we speak, Emelia is about to start her final placement, working with the managing director of BAE Systems’ naval ships business in Glasgow. She certainly has been busy – and has learned a lot.
What are the top five things that Emelia has got out of working at BAE Systems?
In Emelia's words...
1. I have supportive colleagues
Graduates at BAE Systems are supported by people from three areas of the company. Firstly, a member of the human resources team who manages the graduate programme. Secondly, a functional manager, who is the head of the BAE Systems’ business that recruited you and who is responsible for team development. This person steers you through your placements and attaining a professional qualification. Finally, graduates are assigned a manager who oversees day-today work. I’ve always felt very supported and appreciated. At the end of my last placement, my line manager said they wouldn’t know what they’d do without me! The work you do is meaningful: you are not just placed on the photocopier! On the night goggles project, I was managing the requirements from the entire ship and managing the relationship with the supplier. I couldn’t have done my job without support and information from the other teams; I learned so much from them about technicalities and how projects work.
2. I’m supported to be proactive
Whenever I’ve wanted to do something to further my career, the answer has never been ‘No’; instead, it has been ‘I’ll put you in touch with someone’ or ‘Give me further details so I can find out what will work best for you.’ When I started my graduate role, I emailed everybody I knew from my internship to say ‘Hello, I’m back’. This indirectly led to my secondment into the land (UK) business unit. A person I’d worked with during my internship had since become the managing director there and she encouraged me to apply for a secondment. Similarly, I was meant to start my new placement six months ago but when I was being interviewed for it I asked the managing director if I could start it later because of that secondment and he was happy to accommodate this. In these ways, I’ve been encouraged to be proactive about my career progression. Being here as a summer intern has given me the confidence to do so, but it’s a really open environment; when our directors give talks and training they always say that you can email them. A graduate emailed one director to continue the discussion and is now being mentored by them.
3. I’ve been mentored
So far I have had two mentors and both have been incredibly helpful. My first was from the human resources team. At the time I was looking to apply internally for my stretch assignments and for my next placement, so I was particularly interested in how to come across strongly in recruitment situations. They spent an entire day working with me on this. This helped me to present confidently to the events manager who oversaw the Graduate Conference, which I think helped me get my stretch assignment. My second mentor is an engineering director. After just one meeting, I felt inspired. I confided that what I am least confident about is my technical understanding of engineering, not coming from an engineering background. However, even in that session he identified what I do know and we talked about the different problem-solving approaches that different backgrounds can bring.
4. I’ve learned about myself
During my Graduates Developing You suite of training, we had a session based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. I’ve learned, for example, that I am naturally quite extroverted and that I should adjust my behaviour with those who are less so. I’m also mentoring a student at my old university. It’s made me realise how much I’ve developed over the past two years. Whereas I used to be rather shy about talking about my abilities, I’ve learned how and when to talk about my strengths.
5. I can work flexibly
One practical benefit of working at BAE Systems is the ability to work flexibly. I tend to work slightly longer hours from Monday to Thursday and leave earlier on a Friday. When I first moved from Surrey to Glasgow, not only did BAE Systems send me up for a day in advance to learn about the project and to find somewhere to live but I was able to use additional flexitime to take a couple of days off to get to know Glasgow. Flexitime is great because I can adjust my hours to accommodate my other commitments and passions, such as leading Beaver Scouts or salsa dancing. This enables me to continue to develop as an individual, as well as a professional.