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Students join the jet set

BAE will train teenagers to manage multibillion-pound projects designing and manufacturing military aircraft

BAE SYSTEMS, the defence and aerospace company, has launched a five-year training scheme with Blackpool and the Fylde College to find the next generation of project managers for its military aircraft.

From hundreds of applications, 23 college students have been chosen to train as managers of multibillion-pound projects designing and building jet fighters and bombers.

Among the aircraft they could work on are the Typhoon fighter, recently in action intercepting a Russian bomber approaching UK airspace in the north Atlantic, the Nimrod submarine killer and even experimental unmanned planes.

The 18-year-olds, mostly recruited from near BAE's two plants in the north west of England, Warton and Salmesbury, were chosen for their good grades at A-level or level three vocational courses as well as their teamwork and communication skills. They will work at BAE four days a week while studying for a foundation degree and subsequently a BSc, accredited by Lancaster University.

During that time they will be paid at least pound;16,300 a year, rising to about pound;24,000 once they graduate, higher than salaries offered to employees in similar roles coming straight from university.

Steve Crowther, BAE's head of project management professional development, said: "This is an attempt to grow people from the bottom up, giving them experience and getting them early in their careers.

"We are a big recruiter of university graduates, but what we wanted to do with this scheme was tap into a recruitment market that I don't think we have tapped into before.

"There was a gap in the market: high quality people with A-levels who are wondering if the academic or the vocational route is right for them. There's an opportunity to give them vocational experience as well as the academic background."

The complex Eurofighter Typhoon manufacturing process involves four countries, 400 different manufacturing partners and 100,000 staff. The teenagers will join a team of more than 1,000 project control staff working to monitor every aspect of the design and construction.

Initially, the trainees will support established project control staff, but will be expected to gradually take on more responsibility until they are ready to oversee individual parts of the design and manufacturing process.

"One of the aspects of project control is understanding how the business works, understanding how the business is organised, how technical processes come together, how performance is monitored and so on. You can only learn that by experience and they can start getting that experience straight away," said Mr Crowther.

"We also hope it will have benefits in terms of loyalty and retention."

Mr Crowther said that in some respects training sixth-form leavers was better than hiring graduates or staff from other companies. "They are almost like a blank sheet of paper and we can teach them skills and our specific needs rather than converting someone part way through a career," he said.

The work-based training aspect of the project control foundation programme will be validated with an NVQ level three to ensure the experience is meaningful. "It checks their vocational training is satisfying the requirements and they're not making tea for six months. They're really getting proper roles," Mr Crowther said.

Andy Iredale, director of marketing at the college, said: "We had to whittle down the applications electronically because there were too many to bring in for interview."

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