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BAE Systems – Driving Skills, Technology, Engineering, Innovation and Learning Forward Apace By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.





Two further interesting examples to emerge of how BAE Systems is continuing to drive through new technology, innovation, ideas and knowledge together with skills development all aimed to provide the company and its chosen partners with engineering and technical advantage that is rightly considered to be at the heart of the company’s future have come in the form of two separate announcements over the past 24 hours

The first was in the form of confirmation that Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson had yesterday opened the Academy for Skills and Knowledge, at BAE Systems’ Submarines site in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.

The state-of-the-art £25 million training academy which I very much look forward to seeing when I next go to Barrow–in-Furness covers an area of 89,340 sq. ft. The facility has been built to further develop the world-class engineering skills that are required to design, build and deliver complex submarine programmes to the Royal Navy. Featuring classrooms, workshops, a virtual reality suite and scale-model sized submarine units, the Academy for Skills and Knowledge will provide bespoke training to almost 9,000 employees, including nearly 800 apprentices.

Formally opening the facility yesterday Mr. Williamson said: “The Dreadnought [note that this is the class of nuclear powered and armed submarine now being developed by BAE Systems as the eventual replacement for the existing fleet of Vanguard class submarines that, along with the predecessor Polaris submarine capability, have so far provided 49 years of unbroken continuous-at-sea nuclear deterrent capability for the UK] programme is truly a national endeavour, employing some of the brightest engineers and scientists in this country”. He added that “This new Academy for Skills and Knowledge is a vital part of this programme as, alongside our industry partners, we strive to upskill and maintain the talented workforce building these state-of-the-art submarines.”

Cliff Robson, Managing Director of BAE Systems Submarines, said that: “This is a fantastic facility that will provide a unique environment in which to train our growing workforce. Our investment in skills will not only ensure we have a pipeline of world-class talent available to deliver our complex programmes, but will also positively contribute to the economic prosperity of the region and the UK’s engineering industry”.

Mr. Robson added that “The new academy will give our current and future workforce access to the very latest in learning and development, demonstrating our lasting commitment not just to our current employees but to those who will join our company in years to come” and that “To support this, we continue to work closely with local schools and colleges and we see the academy as another positive step towards helping to raise standards of education in the area.”

The BAE Systems Academy of Skills and Knowledge is part of a substantial site investment programme that will provide a range of new and upgraded facilities to the workforce – from experienced naval architects and systems engineers to new apprentices and graduates – working to deliver the Astute and Dreadnought class submarines for the Royal Navy. The academy is intended to deliver a range of training, from mechanical and electrical skills in its 10 workshops to design and project management in its 30 classrooms. Resources such as the virtual reality training suite will allow employees to hone their skills in a simulated environment, before working on the real product and also forms part of the company’s ongoing commitment to developing future talent.

With the intention of a further 280 employees being recruited to join Submarines on early careers programmes in 2019 [this following the recruitment of more than 250 employees that have joined as apprentices, higher apprentices or graduates earlier this year] this is yet another very positive indicator of how BAE Systems is continuing to support the ramp-up of production on the Dreadnought programme.

For the record, BAE Systems’ Submarines business is a major contributor to the regional and national UK economy. Last year the Barrow-in-Furness based operation spent approximately £700m with over 700 suppliers and during 2016 supported one in 20 jobs in the regional economy.  Earlier this year Mr. Williamson had also opened a new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, the Central Yard Complex, where certain phases of construction for the Dreadnought class will take place – marking the latest development in a major infrastructure investment programme.

The Submarines academy is the second of its type to be opened by BAE Systems in North West England and joins a network of similar facilities in place to train and develop the 34,000 BAE Systems employees across the UK. The first Academy for Skills and Knowledge was opened in Samlesbury, Lancashire, to support BAE Systems’ Air business, and last year celebrated delivering more than 250,000 training hours in its first year.

Regular readers of commentary will be well aware of the support that I provide to engineering and technology development and innovation. Moreover, what BAE Systems is doing is not just about investing in its own future, important though this clearly is, but also in respect of pushing forward, promoting and enhancing a vast range of highly specialist technology developments. Add to this recognition of the importance of the skills retention, knowledge base and training that is not only crucial to ensuring that we have sufficient expertise that we will need in the future but that will also ensure the UK can retain the lead it has in many specialist areas such as defence and aerospace.

That BAE Systems is placing so much effort to ensure that it has sufficient design, production and mechanical engineers, and that it has sufficient technicians and others together with providing the opportunity for tomorrows innovators to emerge, those that we will need to rely on not only to create tomorrows technology but also to ensure that UK sovereign capability continues to be unmatched in the areas that we consider as being crucial to our national interest is brilliant.

Moving on to a second announcement from BAE Systems, one that this morning refers to the formation of a new partnership with Williams Grand Prix Engineering and Williams Advanced Engineering that will see technology, expertise and skills being shared between what are to be considered as world class technology-led engineering businesses across a range of areas including cockpit designs, augmented reality and advanced materials.

Innovators at BAE Systems play a key role in the development, manufacture and support of fast jets such as the Eurofighter Typhoon, F-35 and Future Combat Air Systems and will now work in close collaboration with their peers at Williams, an organisation that has achieved decades of success in the ultra-competitive environment of Formula One. Drawing on each organisation’s skills, experience and knowledge, it is expected that the new partnership will devise and deliver projects to create game-changing innovations, ultimately influencing the design, performance and production of both fast jets and fast cars.

The announcement this morning confirms that initial collaborations are likely to include work on intuitive cockpit designs for fighter pilots and racing drivers, taking advantage of each organisation’s work in virtual and augmented reality; aerodynamics; lightweight materials; and battery technology that could power solar powered unmanned air vehicles and the cars of the future.

The companies also plan to work closely together on product and technology development, co-ordinating funding where there is a mutual benefit in doing so. Opportunities to exploit existing intellectual property will also be explored to harness some of the latest developments in specialist low volume manufacture and expertise in vehicle dynamics in each organisation’s specialist sector.  There will also be secondment opportunities for engineers across both companies.

The partnership agreement follows on from previous valuable collaborations between the companies, which have included engineers from Williams Advanced Engineering using their expertise to help design and deliver a revolutionary cockpit simulator that gives BAE Systems a fully flexible and interactive cockpit to experiment with designs for work on its future combat aircraft initiative.

Ian Muldowney, engineering director, BAE Systems Air said: “The Government’s Combat Air Strategy, published this summer, highlights the criticality of cutting-edge UK technology and Intellectual Property, including how this is generated, sustained and exploited. As we begin to explore what will be required from a UK future combat air system, we must work harder than ever to answer these questions. Working with technology leaders outside of our own industry will help us find new ways of asking questions and think in a different way about the solutions.”

Mike O’Driscoll, chief executive officer of the Williams Group said: “We are pleased to be joining with BAE Systems in this strategic alliance. We look forward to growing this relationship still further and sharing expertise across the talented people at these iconic British companies, in engineering and beyond, to deliver significant benefits to our customers and partners.”

So there we have it – against a background full of uncertainty here is one company and, in the case of the second announcement, two that continue to be determined to be both innovative and creative in how they approach the future. I commend what BAE Systems is doing here and I look forward to writing more about innovation and achievement in the future.

CHW (London – 6th December 2017)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon




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