Learning to fly

Roald Stephens wanted to be an engineer from an early age.

His interest in aerospace engineering took off through getting involved with the air cadets and work experience with the BBC, helping to develop the “iFlyer” - a small unmanned aircraft used to film hard-to-follow events.

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Roald talks about the challenges and opportunities on board Rolls-Royce’s high-flying Professional Excellence graduate scheme, as well as how he got off the ground with one of the world’s leading engineering companies.

Name: Roald Stephens
Company: Rolls-Royce
Job: Civil Aerospace Engineering Professional Excellence scheme graduate
A-Levels: Maths, physics, chemistry
University: Aeronautical engineering at Southampton University

What do you do?
I’m currently on Rolls-Royce’s Professional Excellence scheme. It involves a series of three-month placements. I’m currently on my third – at the Rolls-Royce turbine blade facility in Derby. My job is to help improve our manufacturing processes - improving quality and lowering the cost of our products.

My first placement was “whole engine design” with Rolls-Royce’s civil aerospace  business, the second was “service engineering” in the same department and the fourth placement involves flight testing a Trent 1000 Rolls-Royce engine in Seattle in the USA.

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Picture by Marcin Wichary - CC by 2.0

What were your first few weeks like in your job?
My first few weeks on the job were really inspiring. Graduates from all over the world gathered in Derby for induction meetings where we were briefed on what is commercially important at Rolls-Royce. It's a brilliant opportunity to network.

I love the company’s enthusiasm to learn. The employees always make time to explain everything they know because it benefits everyone. The environment is hard working, but it’s happy and productive and you’re valued, even as a graduate.

How much importance was put on becoming part of the team?
Community is really important – we did a two day project at a special needs centre where we revamped the garden area, laying paths, making benches and  decking, and revamping polytunnels. Everyone pitched in and it was great to be part of the team.

Have you been given any training?
Rolls-Royce are paying for my Green Belt process improvement training which is an internationally recognized qualification. This isn’t standard training and I had to apply for it. If you put the business case to the company – saving money in the long term, building expertise – they are happy to develop your technical specialism and experience.

How did you apply for your job at Rolls Royce?
I was still at university, in my fourth year, when I applied for the Rolls-Royce Graduate Scheme, and I got the job shortly afterwards. The first part of the process was the online application. It was quite a logical process and was definitely a case of getting out what you put in, in terms of effort.

I got an offer by email for an interview within two days and they paid my expenses to travel up to Rolls-Royce in Derby. Part of the assessment was a competency interview where they test your skillsets, a technical based interview, psychometric testing and a scenario-based response test. It was a very tiring day. But it was worth it - the following day, I got a call offering me a job! Rolls-Royce was the first company I applied for so I was very lucky really.

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Picture by Marcin Wichary - CC by 2.0

What else do you think helped got you the job?
A Masters degree is expected in my industry at 2.1 or more. But aside from education and work experience, I think my volunteering work helped me get the job. I was a Special Constable with Hampshire Police for four years; that enabled me to demonstrate competency outside of my core skills.

How is your job different to life at university?
Real life engineering is obviously different to studying. The placements allow you to develop a wide range of skills to work in different areas of the company. Someone with a large amount of experience is useful because you will take a set of skills from one area of engineering and bring it to another. Not every placement may be for you but you won’t know until you try.

Did you do any work experience?
For my undergraduate work placement scheme, I worked with an engineering company that designs, manufactures and maintains microlights (small, lightweight aircrafts – Ed). I worked for the BBC and the University of Southampton on an unmanned air vehicle research project: the BBC “iFlyer” follows hard to film events like the torch relay in the 2012 Olympics.

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Picture by Marcin Wichary - CC by 2.0

How did you become interested in engineering and where did you study?
I was always interested in engineering as a kid, especially aerospace (I joined the air cadets when I was thirteen), and my interest in technical challenges grew from there. That, and my Dad being an engineer, led me to study aeronautical engineering at Southampton University.

What advice would you give to young people who are interested in engineering?
It’s important to get the right balance. You need relevant work experience and a good degree classification but you also need extra-curricular experience - whatever you can do to put yourself one step ahead of the other people applying. You also need to do your research. Find out all about the company and make sure you’re aware of the current affairs and issues that affect the industry and the company.

What’s your career goal?
I’m aiming high for the next five years. My goal for the future would be Chief Engineer at Rolls-Royce. I’m really interested in manufacturing improvement and quality. I want to excel in both engineering and people challenges, but you don’t get success without hard work.

What’s your opinion on the outlook for jobs in engineering?
I think the outlook for UK engineering jobs is positive, especially in aerospace engineering, where the UK is still a key contributor. Within that, the supply chain is massive and the need for air travel isn’t going to decrease. There’ll always be a requirement for more efficient engines – to reduce cost and conserve fuel. It's a bright future, as there’s always a demand for more.

Thanks to totaljobs.com for conducting this interview with Roald.

More links:

Rolls Royce Careers - http://www.rolls-royce.com/careers/
Engineering at the University of Southampton -
The Royal Aeronautical Society -
Engineering Jobs on Totaljobs-