The first thing you need if you are considering a career in aerospace is a good plan. There are around 60 universities offering courses relating to aeronautical engineering, space and satellite technology in the UK. An aeronautical or aerospace engineering degree provides the perfect foundation to get into aerospace design. These qualifications cover all aspects of aircraft design and manufacture, such as materials and composites, propulsion and aerodynamics. With the challenges facing aviation today - climate change, alternative fuels, unmanned aerial vehicles and space tourism - today's aerospace graduates will drive tomorrow's aerospace industry forward.
In aviation, there are specialist business and systems management degrees - such as aerospace business systems and aviation management - covering areas including airline operations, fleet management, fuel negotiation, regulation and logistics. You can even combine some degrees with pilot studies and learn to fly as you study. There are also aircraft engineering courses at university and college level, which includes hands-on aircraft experience.
The traditional entry route to aircraft maintenance is via an apprenticeship in the industry, with companies sponsoring your preparation for qualifications such as an NVQ, HNC or specialist engineering licence. Many companies - such as Monarch, Flybe and Marshall Aerospace - invest heavily in training opportunities. There are also many manufacturing-based apprenticeship schemes with companies such as Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Astrium and BAE Systems, to name a few.
DEVELOP YOUR SKILLS
With so many people now going to university or college, a degree is no longer the only thing employers consider when recruiting graduates. Personal skills such as communication, teamwork, innovation and problem-solving are each equal in importance to academic qualifications.
It's not too early to think about work experience when you're a fresher - it will set you apart. The ideal way to develop your skills is through summer work experience. This could be working for a flying club, helping out at an airfield, working on a historical aircraft reconstruction or temping in customer services for an airline or airport operator. Use your vacation periods constructively and you can make some useful contacts for the future.
Summer internship and sandwich placement recruitment starts now. Summer internships are often project-based, involving the support of a particular aspect of an ongoing project or completing a specific task. Sandwich placements usually last one year, allowing you to settle into the company, develop your skills, take on more responsibility and gain an in-depth understanding of business operations. The value of a placement is so high that entry is very competitive and many employers use it as a graduate recruitment tool. Remember to look out for opportunities within small to medium-sized companies as well.
THIRD OR FOURTH YEAR
If you want to start your graduate job next September you should start applying now, as all major graduate employers start their recruitment processes in the autumn; by February next year it will be too late to apply for many graduate schemes. Larger recruiters can receive 10,000 graduate applications each year, so there are no guarantees you will reach interview stage. Look out for smaller companies, and apply to as many as possible. If you haven't got any relevant experience, think about other things you have done such as part-time jobs, voluntary and community work or involvement with sports and university societies. If you have no experience of these, think about how you can add value in your final year to enhance your skills. Your university or college's careers service can help you to find useful voluntary work.
APPLYING FOR JOBS
Your CV is essential. It summarises your education, work experience, skills, and interests for applications to smaller companies. However, larger aerospace recruiters now ask candidates to apply via an online application form. You are asked to provide detailed information about particular skills, such as an example of when you resolved a problem or led a team. So, reflecting on your skills and experiences before you begin the application process - and perhaps discussing them with a careers adviser - is vital. Of course, university group projects are an excellent example of teamwork, but remember that many students will use this type of thing as an example. Find a variety of interesting examples from all relevant aspects of your life to make sure stand out from the crowd.
Careers fairs are great places to start looking for advice on the application process. You can speak directly to professionals in the industry at national exhibitions for engineering or graduate recruitment exhibitions, as well as the RAeS Aerospace and Aviation Careers Fair. Professional bodies such as the RAeS, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport run conferences and lectures offering the chance to meet senior professionals who you wouldn't normally encounter - a chance to collect some all-important business cards!
The Society of British Aerospace Companies
National trade association for companies supplying all things aerospace: www.sbac.co.uk
Royal Aeronautical Society Careers Centre
Find out about apprenticeships, scholarships and awards: www.aerosociety.com/careers
The British National Space Centre
News, inspiration and contacts from the UK space industry: www.bnsc.gov.uk