Luke Bridges, a Systems Engineer for Thales UK, also acts as an Engineering Education Scheme (EES) Link Engineer, mentoring students on the scheme. As EES celebrates its 30th anniversary, Luke reflects on the part it has played in his career so far.
My First EES Experience
I first heard of the EES when a teacher recommended it as a good opportunity to see engineering and technology at first hand. He also said EES was a good thing to have on your personal statement for university. As I enjoyed electronics and maths I decided to have a go and was successful in the selection process which picked six of us as a team for a project to work on a solution to a lighting problem in Thales flight simulators.
At first the project was a bit of a shock – it was a much bigger and complex problem than I had anticipated - but it ended up teaching me many skills that you don’t get from school work. Probably the most important ones were how to work on solving problems as a team, rather than an individual, and how to manage a big project.
Weekly morning meetings at Thales enabled us to glimpse life in a commercial environment while the Thales team took the time to enable us to see how our project fitted into the much bigger picture of simulator development.
How EES has affected my career
My teacher was quite right, the EES experience gave me a clear view of engineering and convinced me that this was a career to aspire to. He was also right that the skills and experience was very helpful in illuminating my personal statement and CV.
But EES has affected my career much more profoundly through the connections it enabled me to make. My A level results just missed getting me into my first choice degree so I approached the contacts I had made at Thales and secured a year’s work with them while I re-took them. As a result of that year Thales offered me a sponsorship for my four-year degree, which included working for them during my summer vacations. After a little globetrotting post-degree I successfully secured a place on Thales UK graduate entry programme which lead to my present position. The initial EES experience has therefore shaped my career thus far.
The tables turned – life as a mentor
As part of the graduate training scheme, I soon had the opportunity to volunteer to mentor on the EES scheme, working with local schools. It was an experience that was very rewarding both in terms of the satisfaction of seeing pupils gain the experiences I enjoyed in 2005 but also beneficial personally in a number of ways.
Running EES allows you to practise skills that you don’t always engage with as an early career engineer, in particular, presentation and other communication skills, and the running of an assessment centre including selection interviewing. These skills and other teaching and mentoring experiences are particularly valuable if you, like me, are looking to achieve Chartership competencies to become a Chartered Engineer.
This year a colleague and I have been given charge of the EES programme as a whole, which has been very broadening as an experience. We had to package the project as a budgeted operation, which meant a management board level presentation of the project to win the appropriate funding. This exposure a senior level has also been very helpful and has led to me being involved in some other CV enhancing projects that probably wouldn’t otherwise have come my way.
The advantages for Thales in taking part in EES
It is easy to assume that the projects given to EES teams are in some ways not ‘real’ commercial projects but this would be wrong. EES enables a company to dedicate relatively inexpensive resource to what may well be a ‘niggly’, time consuming project that otherwise could be very expensive to undertake.
It is true that EES projects may not be mission critical, but they nevertheless tackle real issues in a way that can be cost effective for a company.
The benefits to the company’s employees that act as mentors are considerable, giving them important skills and management responsibilities at an early stage in their careers.
As my own experience demonstrates, EES allows Thales to develop relationships with potential future employees. We will provide references and sometimes part-time work for students that show an interest and ongoing contact can provide benefits that work for both sides.