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Spotlight: Jack Ratcliffe, Graduate Manufacturing Engineer, Bae Systems

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I am the lead for the BAE Systems Naval Ships Reverse Mentoring Scheme.

Tell us about your career journey so far.

GCSE’s at school, where I chose to do geography, further maths and product design.

Here I was faced with the decision of triple or double award science and ultimately chose double award as the impact triple science would have on the next stages of my education were minimal.

Knowing I wanted to do some sort of engineering degree/apprenticeship I then chose to study Maths, Physics, Product Design and Business at A level, where I achieved the grades E, E, B, D respectively.

These grades didn’t get me a place on any of my courses of choice, which were mainly mechanical engineering, but I was thankfully offered a place on the manufacturing engineering course at Coventry University. While it wasn’t the subject I had initially chosen, I was unlikely to be offered any other engineering course so I accepted this offer and started out on a 3 year bachelor’s course, choosing to continue for a 4th year to gain my master’s degree.

This course was very project based and gave the opportunity to experience live working environments and this style of learning suited me well, meaning I was able to achieve a 1st. Following finishing university, the COVID pandemic had just hit, which made starting a career quite difficult, so I decided to look for interim work that would strengthen my weaker area of experience.

This came in the form of a team leader role at the Co-op where I worked for 6 months. During this time I continued searching for a “career” job and was offered two roles, a test technician with a company called Saietta, who make electric motors, based in Bicester and graduate manufacturing engineer with BAE Systems Naval Ships based in Glasgow. I decided to take the opportunity in Glasgow, which meant moving away Coventry and away from home for the first time but I felt would give me a broader range of experience and allow me to continue to develop my skills and knowledge better..

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

Product design – Putting together a product development portfolio and then ultimately building the product was something I really enjoyed. Being able to look back over all of the work completed as a whole and seeing how the initial idea organically developed into the final product.

Reflecting on this style of work it has also highlighted to me the importance of recording all ideas and work no matter how small and no matter in what medium. Even if it is not necessarily required by the work, being able to have an overview of a project and seeing where something started vs where it finished is great for work satisfaction and motivation.

What subjects/qualifications/skills are useful for your role?

Organisational skills are very useful in my role, not only personal organisation but organisation of information. The industry within which I work projects and tasks can be so massive that ensuring information is clear and where someone would expect to find it is highly important. Soft skills are very important in my role.

Being able to communicate effectively with a wide range of people is a necessity in order to obtain accurate and timely information. Creativity is important in my role, bringing fresh ideas to problems helps them to be solved quicker and can often result in new established ways of working. Science and maths are important within my role and are used regularly, but not particularly in depth. Material science in particular plays a regular part but again, not in a large degree of depth.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

Within my role I have a large amount of autonomy and freedom to carry out work in the best way I see fit. There is a lot of trust in me and this is my favourite thing, being able to discuss a problem, have a piece of work organically develop, display enthusiasm for this piece of work and then be trusted to pursue it to completion and deliver timely results. This allows me to bring creativity to the problems I am facing.

What is a normal day in your role like?

A normal day in my role consists of reviewing and improving ways of working as they relate to manufacture. This can range from very specific tasks such as welding, to much larger aspects such as tool management or material and process routing.

Things do not typically elapse on a day to day basis but are more month to month meaning the focus of work is the same for a month or periods of months at a time. Fortnightly one to ones occur between myself and my line manager along with a weekly team meeting where we discuss our ongoing scopes of work and hash out what the lookahead is for the coming weeks/months.

And what does your job title mean?

My job title means that I solve technical problems relating to the manufacture of products. This relation can be direct or indirect, so for example a problem with a process that physically transforms materials (direct) or a problem with a the way information is being processed and used in order to get those materials to that physical process (indirect).

Can you suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?

Making a cup of tea – Considering the techniques and processes you do and the order you do them in to reduce the amount of wasted time in your processes and ultimately reduce the length of time it takes to get to the finished product.

For example, you know the kettle is going to need to boil the water, and it can do this unattended, so while it is doing this, you can prepare the mug and the tea bag, meaning the mug and tea bag prep and kettle boiling are processes that now take place in parallel. Further to this if you have more than one type of tea bag how are they stored to ensure you pick the right one, how do you know when they need to be replenished, these are example of error proofing and resource management.

Where is the kettle placed in relation to the tea bags and mugs, do you need to walk between them, this is an example of waste in the form of transport and motion and can be eliminated by bringing the two closer together. This illustrates the aspect of my work of driving out waste from manufacturing processes. Once these wastes have been identified, solutions can then be developed to them and often it is the simplest ones that have the largest impact, such as moving something or changing the order in which something is done.

Only when these have been put in place should more complex improvements such as new machinery, tooling or bespoke equipment design take place.


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