Getting things off the ground

This is an opportunity for future leaders to reach their full potential, says Boeing Defence UK CEO David Pitchforth

At the age of 16, I joined a small British subsidiary of a large American engineering company as an apprentice. The real inspiration for me was the fact that you could design something on paper (in those days it really was on paper), see it being made and then see it in action; your design would come to life and I thought that was fantastic.

Looking back, the benefit of joining a small subsidiary was the breadth of opportunity on offer. By the age of 20, I had gained experience across all the engineering disciplines, but also in procurement, supply chain, finance, sales, all different parts of manufacturing, manufacturing engineering, manufacturing on the shop floor and test and development. Not only that, over the course of my apprenticeship, I learnt many softer skills too: how to work in a team; how to manage a team; how to adapt my style depending on who I was working with; and how to have empathy and understanding for all the different functions within a business. So really, what started out as an engineering apprenticeship actually turned out to be an executive apprenticeship, and it is for that reason that I am where I am today, leading a company.

It’s not just me though, half of my leadership team are former apprentices too. That demonstrates to me that the skills gained through apprenticeships are first class. I believe that the energy and trust that an apprentice can bring to an organisation is the reason so many make it to the top and I hope that through greater awareness in our schools and more opportunities in our businesses, we can continue to inspire young people to consider apprenticeships as an option for them.

The young people of today are the leaders of tomorrow and I really can’t express strongly enough that the most important thing for young people to do is to keep learning. How they choose to do that doesn’t really matter, whether through an apprenticeship or through university, as long as they are happy. I made my decision to become an apprentice because I’m very ‘hands on’. I’m the sort of person that learns through doing. My experience was one of the richest and most enjoyable times of my life and one that I would encourage all of our future leaders to consider.

David Pitchforth is managing director of Boeing Defence UK, Ltd, responsible for the growth, alignment and integration of all business activity in the United Kingdom for Boeing Defence, Space & Security (BDS). He has held this position since December 2012.
David holds a degree in design engineering from the Open University, an HNC in design engineering and an ONC in mechanical & production engineering from Huddersfield Polytechnic, as well as a certificated apprenticeship from the Engineering Industry Training Board.
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