Role model

28 June 2018

Traditional thinking says that if you want to succeed in engineering, then you need to go to university. This month’s role model Jamie D’Ath, who was awarded the 2017 IET Mary George Memorial Prize for Apprentices, shows that taking a different path can bring greater rewards, both financially and professionally. She gives us her insights into what the future holds

Jamie D’Ath is a mechanical engineer at MBDA, Europe’s leading manufacturer of missile systems. She was also shortlisted for the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards in 2017 and was awarded the IET Mary George Memorial Prize for Apprentices. In recent months, Jamie’s engineering achievements have been featured in a wide range of publications, including Cosmopolitan, The Guardian and The Huffington Post.

What originally inspired you to follow an engineering path?

I’ve always been interested in STEM and after taking part in the World Skills Mobile Robotics challenge and speaking to representatives from MBDA, it was the only thing I wanted to do.

Engineering appealed to me as it allowed me to problem-solve for a living, while utilising my interests in areas such as Science, Maths and Art.

Why did you decide to go down the apprenticeship route rather than university?

University has never really appealed to me and I relished the opportunity to ‘earn while I learn’, rather than undertaking at least three more years of formal education. I was keen to enter the working world and found that an apprenticeship enabled me to experience what a job was really like on a day-to-day basis.

University is a major investment and ultimately doesn’t tell you if you’re suited to a specific job or industry or not. You can easily study for at least three years, get yourself in a huge amount of debt and then realise you’re not keen on the area that you invested all that time and money into. That’s not to say that everyone will be the same, but I was always more interested in entering the working world as quickly as possible and I found that an apprenticeship gave me the perfect opportunity to do just that.

What, in your view, are the advantages of an apprenticeship and would you recommend more young people take this route?

I’d definitely recommend an apprenticeship to young people looking to enter the world of STEM and, for me, it’s made a huge difference. In terms of personal development, I’m nowhere near as shy or dependant as I was prior to the apprenticeship and my organisational and management skills have also improved enormously.

While both apprenticeships and university offer independence, undertaking the former means I have to earn, save and manage my own income, as well as doing things like taking part on overseas business trips, which I would never have had the chance to experience whilst still in formal education.

In addition, I’ve found that the responsibilities of my role – and the fact that I’m trusted to carry out my job on my own – provide a high level of satisfaction and independence.

Perhaps most importantly, an apprenticeship enables you to find out what you like and don’t like about the working world and your specific area of choice.

On completion of your apprenticeship, what will be your next steps and where do you plan on taking your career?

At the moment I’m trying not to get ahead of myself and am taking one day at a time.

I’ve just entered my final placement and that’s where I’ll probably be based once my apprenticeship is completed.

My main short-term goal is to become a chartered and qualified engineering technician and to continue to improve my skills so that I’m eligible for promotion at MBDA.

You’re still at an early stage of your career in engineering, but what would you say have been some of the highlights so far?

My apprenticeship has enabled me to undertake tasks I never thought I’d get the chance to experience. Amongst many others, I’ve worked on trials and with Supacat vehicles, Type 45 Destroyers and more.

I’ve also had the chance to meet HRH Princess Royal and of course, I won the IET Mary George Memorial Prize at the 2017 IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards.

All of those amazing experiences have come in such a short period of time and wouldn’t have been possible without my apprenticeship.

You regularly go into schools to explain to pupils what engineering involves. Why is this important to you?

I think many young students, but particularly young women, don’t fully understand what engineering is, what a job in the industry entails and the potential that it can hold. I know that this is the case because a few years ago, I had a similar sort of mindset and it was only after I spoke to some of the team at MBDA and found out what an engineering job would really be like, that I became interested in the industry.

It’s my belief that, if I can tell students about some of the opportunities and experiences that I’ve had, it could raise awareness and get more of them involved from a young age.

At the very least, it could help to encourage some students to consider engineering as a viable option, rather than discarding it when it comes to considering their career choices.

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