Back Story: Kate Todd-Davis, ‘Digital solutions will be pivotal in progressing manufacturing’
Image credit: Jonathan Brent
Dr Shini Somara talks to Kate Todd-Davis, who works at Rolls-Royce Aerospace, and discovers why she chose a degree apprenticeship instead of full-time university.
Shini Somara: What do you do?
Kate Todd-Davis: I’m a manufacturing engineering degree apprentice, creating and updating processes for the manufacture of critical aerospace components.
SS: What are the benefits of doing an apprenticeship?
KT-D: Engineering as a profession has always been the right fit for me. Despite being a good student in school, I always had in the back of my mind that work experience was more important for my future career than anything else. Attending a Russell Group university was my Plan B. Before completing my A Levels, I did some work experience at a nuclear power station in Hartlepool. This two-month experience was organised through a mentoring scheme and confirmed to me that there was no point in going back to the intensely academic environment of university for three years, when I was really keen to apply my knowledge, interest and expertise.
I subsequently took another work experience position at Caterpillar after my A Levels, which I also really enjoyed. It was here that I learned how to use computer-aided design (CAD) and a 3D printer, among many other skills. All of what I had learned in industry better prepared me for a career in engineering, and my A Levels in maths, physics and chemistry have been useful too.
Apprenticeships are great for a hands-on experience of engineering. All the academic knowledge gained during my part-time degree could be immediately applied. For me, this was a much more effective way of learning. During my apprenticeship, I attended the University of Sheffield for one day a week and was on the manufacturing floor for the other days of the week. It was hard work managing my industry-based work, university coursework and studying simultaneously. It took me just three years to complete my degree in manufacturing engineering, but more importantly, I had gained three years of work experience, doing jobs that I really enjoyed and working with a supportive and encouraging team.
During my manufacturing engineering apprenticeship, I got to visit many departments to find the right fit for me. It also gave me an appreciation of how the manufacturing industry operates. I rotated around different departments at Rolls-Royce every six months, learning about all the essential aspects of the business. Apprenticeships also provide the added benefit of allowing us to earn while we learn. I incurred no student debt, while Rolls-Royce gained a highly enthusiastic and keen employee for a relatively low cost.
At Rolls-Royce, there are many apprentices, and they invest heavily in our growth and development as employees. It is worthwhile since we are the future of the industry. Old methods of manufacturing are rapidly being replaced by digital alternatives and many apprentices are familiar with coding, simulation tools and 3D printers, and are open to combining old and new methods to develop innovative and cutting-edge solutions. We are driven by a need to be more sustainable and efficient. And I think the older generations accept that we might come up with different solutions because we’ve grown up in a different era of smartphones and other digital technology. Digital solutions will be pivotal in progressing manufacturing, so it’s good that everyone in the manufacturing industry is open to new and fresh ideas and approaches towards doing things.
SS: Is an apprenticeship route for everyone who wants to enter a career in engineering?
KT-D: If someone is interested in how things are made; how things work and/or have an interest in maths and science, then manufacturing could be a good industry to enter. I don’t think gender or age matters. There are a few people at Rolls-Royce, who switched careers and/or started an apprenticeship later in their life. What is required is a genuine interest in making things.
University graduates bring with them a technical expertise to the industry, which is so useful when combined with the more practical expertise of apprentices. All routes into manufacturing make for a diverse team and diversity in engineering leads to better solutions.
SS: What stigmas have you had to tackle as an apprentice?
KT-D: There’s a lot of misconceptions around technical apprentices and apprenticeships. When I say I’m an apprentice, people think that I just make the tea for everyone and do all the odd jobs that no one else wants to do. At Rolls-Royce, this is certainly not the case.
I have often been given huge responsibilities, which have forced me to learn from other people at work who are far more practical and knowledgeable. If there is one thing I have thoroughly learned, it is to keep asking questions. This is especially essential, because technology in the manufacturing industry is often changing and updating.
The apprenticeship route was a great choice for me, but it isn’t suited to everyone. If people want to remain ignorant of the advantages of apprentices, that’s on them – I’m confident and happy with the choices I have made.
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