Next in our series is Sol McKiernan an Embedded Electronic System Design and Development Apprentice with Leonardo.

What made you want to pursue a career in the sector and an apprenticeship? 

After GCSEs, I left school, eager to start gaining industry experience and getting paid. However, I did not want to stop my formal education, so embarked on an engineering apprenticeship, aged 16. While completing this apprenticeship, I gained a Level 3 BTEC Diploma in Engineering and found that I wanted to specialise in electronics. 

In September 2020, I started my four-year Degree Apprenticeship at the Leonardo Luton site in September 2020, aged 18. I am currently in the second year of the Embedded Electronic System Design and Development Engineer Degree Apprenticeship. 

What is your day-to-day role like? 

I typically work five days a week, with my time split between attending university and work. I usually will have one day a week of delivery from the University of Hertfordshire towards my BEng (Hons) in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. In addition to this, I can take up to another (paid) days’ worth of time completing tasks such as degree coursework. For the rest of the week I spend my time working in placement split between working at Leonardo’s Luton site and remotely from home. 

Have you worked on any interesting projects / programs during your apprenticeship? 

My placements work varies greatly depending on whichever department I am in. I have tested and verified RF/microwave circuits, modelled and simulated Radar systems, written software to evaluate fighter jets, and am currently designing a circuit board that will be used to test electronic sub-systems used on aircrafts. 

I am an active member of the Charity Committee and a STEM Ambassador. I am also the Student Representative for my university cohort. In addition to these activities, I was the Project Leader for Leonardo’s participants (Team NextGen) in the 2021 IMechE Apprentice Automation Challenge, where we designed and produced a functional Smart Mirror aimed at enhancing home-workouts. I was also heavily involved in the system and electrical design/development for this project. As the winners of the 2021 IMechE challenge, we were invited to present our product at the Smart Factory Expo in Liverpool. 

What has been the best thing about your apprenticeship, has anything surprised you? 

The thing I enjoy most about my job is the satisfaction of contributing to real company projects and having an impact on the business at such a young age. I also really appreciate the opportunities to collaborate with so many different fields, gaining not just an appreciation for other departments but a holistic view of the product lifecycle relevant to me as an aspiring engineer. 

The amount of extra-curricular and enrichment opportunities available on an apprenticeship at Leonardo has really positively surprised me. They genuinely invest into helping you become the best professional version of yourself possible while ensuring there are fun and engaging activities available which I found has really helped with my wellbeing. 

Would you recommend an apprenticeship to people looking to make a first step in their career? 

Definitely! Being able to work alongside field specialists while completing a relevant degree and then being able to apply the very concepts just learnt was also a real pull-factor for me. You are also given responsibilities as an apprentice, which will help shape you into a robust and valuable individual that is a genuine asset to the business.