School exam results aren’t everything, say BAE Systems shipyard apprentices

A father who became an apprentice in a shipyard at the age of 30 has urged young people to consider alternative career paths.

Gerald Kilpatrick decided to pursue his long-held ambition of getting a job after spending years in retail, hospitality and as a climbing instructor.

He was accepted after his first interview and is now in his third year as a shipwright apprentice.

Speaking as Scottish schoolchildren received their exam results, he said: “Whatever your age, if you are interested in trades, offices, logistics, the opportunity is there.

Gérald is an apprentice carpenter.
Gérald is an apprentice carpenter.

“Apprenticeship is a great way to do it these days. Salaries are brilliant and it gets better from there.

“If your job prospects are more suited to manual labor, I would say give it a try or think about it. It changed my life. »

Now in his third year, Gerald’s role varies from day to day, involving moving and installing units, welding and burning.

“I have a family, a one-year-old at home, so it’s good to know I have a future here,” he said. “People say there is no future in shipbuilding, this is proof that there is.

“It’s one of the last places on the Clyde still doing shipbuilding. There’s a lot of pride in this yard.

“Nothing like a failure”

Electrical engineering student David Paton recalled how his first apprenticeship application at BAE was rejected and he decided to try the second year again.

Although he didn’t get his first choice, bosses offered him a role in a brand new adjunct apprenticeship – meaning he could quit his college course and get hands-on experience in the industry.

“I didn’t have the best grades when I left school,” said David, 31. “If you think your exam results aren’t the best, that doesn’t mean you can’t show up and try things.

“There’s no real failure, it’s a learning curve at the end of the day. It’s best to keep trying to find what you need in life.

David describes his role as being “the eyes and ears” of the shipyard. This involves getting the units into place safely, rigging the work from the ceilings using chain hoists and ensuring that all equipment has been installed safely.

He added: “You know the purpose of what you’re doing – you’re building this to protect and save lives, putting quality into this ship in a safe way.”

“Your work is valued”

Karly Mellis was studying maths at university when she started exploring the idea of ​​an apprenticeship at BAE.

Her friend had joined the manufacturing giant as an apprentice engineer and she decided she wanted to learn while earning a full-time salary herself.

The 23-year-old is nearly a year into her supply chain apprenticeship, which sees her working with teams as far afield as Australia.

“There are early mornings to set up meetings and nurture relationships in other areas of the business, it’s really exciting and fun,” she said.

“Right away, you have a lot of responsibilities. The work you do is valued and you get important tasks throughout the day. You are not just helping someone.

She added: “Once I walked in, I knew I had made the right decision.”

Karly said she knew immediately she made the right decision
Karly said she knew immediately she made the right decision

Karly has the opportunity to work in a range of different departments ranging from operations and project management to finance and liaising with big name contractors.

She said: “I like variety, no two days are alike. I can see different aspects of the business and find out what I like.

“I would definitely say, try not to feel a lot of pressure to only go one way. Many people think the only step is to go to college or university.

“More and more companies are opening hands-on learning programs, think about that while you learn. It’s a great advantage.

‘Every day is different’

Gary Morrow is entering the second year of his supply chain apprenticeship after studying business at university.

The 23-year-old said he felt pressure to pursue university or college after leaving school, but it didn’t suit him.

“I thought I was going to try college for a year, but it just wasn’t for me,” he said. “I also worked in retail, which I didn’t want to do long term.

“I enjoyed the supply chain module at university – I found it really interesting and was intrigued from the start, so I decided to go into apprenticeships.

Gary is part of the major contractor program based in Govan, which involves managing on-site contractors and collaborating on different projects.

“Every day is different. I know it’s a bit of a cliché,” he said. “It’s really good, it’s going fast. Time flies, you don’t know where it’s going.

He urges young people to “always consider an apprenticeship” as an option as university and college are “not for everyone”.

He added: “It’s really nice. I have two more years left, so I will continually develop my skills and be the best I can be before moving up the ranks.


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