Name: Amy Palmer
Type of engineering: Building spacecraft
Building spacecraft is one of those careers that even little kids dream of. No wonder Amy Palmer grins from ear to ear when she talks about her apprenticeship, which focuses on constructing satellites – earth observation satellites, navigation satellites and weather satellites among them.
‘It kicked off with three months in a classroom environment to learn the basics and I’m just about to finish my first three-month work placement, with about seven or eight more to go, after which I choose the area I like the best and focus on that for my entire final year,’ she explains.
At the moment, Amy is working in panels. ‘That’s the very first bit of the process of satellite building. Other examples are treatments, where they treat all the materials, and structures, where they put it all together. One of the most exciting areas has to be testing, which involves testing that the satellites will actually last in space,’ explains Amy.
Back at school, Amy’s favourite subject was electronics. ‘My teacher said I should do an apprenticeship after I finished my GCSEs, but I wasn’t confident enough and wound up studying childcare at college and becoming a nanny for five years.’
But when she spotted an advert for the Airbus apprenticeship on a job website, Amy decided to go for it. ‘Hundreds of people applied, which they eventually whittled down to five and I couldn’t believe my luck when I was one of them. There were various tests – English and maths on the theory side and electrical and mechanical on the practical side. I had to wire a particular kind of lead together and make something mechanical to the right specifications. I hadn’t done that kind of thing for years, but was surprised how quickly it came back to me – and we got an instruction sheet to help.’
Amy’s GCSEs were average – Bs and Cs – but that didn’t matter, she says. ‘With apprenticeships, they look for potential – what you’re capable of, not just what exam results you’ve got in the past.’
Most of the people on Amy’s apprenticeship are in their late teens. ‘But one guy is 30, so I’m not the oldest,’ she laughs.
Being female puts her in a minority, she admits. ‘But not as much as you might think. For every four males, there’s one female, and there are more and more females coming through each year.’
Amy’s placements aren’t entirely work-based. ‘We attend a local college every week, which gives backbone to what you do at work and I love how supportive the college is. If you need extra time for anything, they always oblige, and it splits the week up nicely.’
The pay is better than she expected, says Amy. ‘I assumed it would be a really poor wage, especially compared to my nannying career, but was pleasantly surprised.’
As for her long-term plan, Amy says she’s keeping her options open. ‘That’s the best thing about apprenticeships – you really do get to try everything out. And because they constantly remind you that they want you to become a leader, you really feel the future looks bright. I wish I’d gone for it as soon as I left school.’