Joining BAE Systems as a 16-year-old apprentice, Charlotte had already been promoted to leading hand by 19. A keen volunteer, she’s worked to promote engineering locally as well as taking a sabbatical to volunteer in Fiji. During those first three years she gained invaluable experience within the aerospace engineering industry and was a finalist for the company’s 2010 Apprentice of the Year award, winning the category for community achievement. BAE Systems engineer Charlotte was awarded the 2012 WES Prize at this year’s Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Young Woman Engineer of the Year award ceremony.
“It sounds really corny but I chose an apprenticeship because I wanted to earn while I learnt,” she says. “A lot of my friends went to university and sometimes I do feel I missed out on that experience, but what I missed out on at university, I’ve gained in the workplace”.
“I’ve already got six years of experience,” she explains. “I know how it all works and I didn’t have that two year ‘bedding in’ period when you join as a graduate. I’m 23 now and feel like I’ve achieved as much as a graduate in their late twenties.”
On completion of her apprenticeship, Charlotte continued on at BAE Systems as a test technician for Helmet Production at its Rochester site. In this role she had the opportunity to work on the Harrier jump jet helmet and the world’s most advanced pilot’s helmet for the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft. One of her proudest achievements to date is being promoted to leading hand just three months after taking on this role. She is the youngest person to ever achieve this at Rochester by at least ten years.
“I was working in this little production team and no one was taking charge. We needed a leader in there, and being quite gutsy, I went up to my production leader and told him. He said ‘OK then, you can have the job’. So I stood up to the plate and managed the team,” she says.
“It was a few months before my 20th birthday, and a huge responsibility,” she continues. “It’s very daunting to teach and tell people twice or even three times your age what to do. Getting them to give me respect, as a female as well, was a very big challenge, but one I loved. I’m the kind of person that goes for it: sink or swim. I think I get the best out of myself when put in that position. I’m good with pressure and I like a challenge!”
Charlotte has always had a passion for volunteering and she’s done this both in and out of work. She first began volunteering through work, when she became a Medway Enterprise and Business Partnership (MEBP) ambassador. “At BAE Systems a lot of people do ambassadorial work, which is arranged through the local science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) network,” she explains. “I’ve done lots of different kinds of volunteer work: visited children in schools, gone into universities to talk; I just try to encourage people into engineering.”
It was for this work that she was awarded BAE Systems 2010 Community Achievement Award. Charlotte has continued to find new ways to support her industry and colleagues and has recently taken one of the company’s new female apprentices under her wing. “It’s really nice because when I started my apprenticeship there was no one to look up to. She comes to me with questions and I’m happy to support her,” she says. Outside of work Charlotte’s biggest achievement again revolves around volunteering. Last October she took the opportunity to spend 12 weeks on a remote island in Fiji. Here she was involved in a marine conservation project to educate locals about the marine life on the surrounding coral reefs, this being their primary source of food.
“It was daunting as I went on my own, but it was the best experience of my life,” she enthuses. “I feel like I made a difference: I changed people’s lives, and I’m really proud of that.” Charlotte also spent some time teaching in the local school, something she enjoyed so much that she hopes to continue it somehow. But as much as she gave to the local community, she also feels she got a lot back from the experience. “I came back with a lot of life skills. It’s life changing. I’ve learnt patience, people skills and how to teach. You see things in a different way.”
Charlotte decided engineering was for her after visiting her dad, an electrical engineer, at work. However, before then she had planned to study marine biology at university. For her this trip was also a chance to fulfil a life goal. “I never wanted to be one of those people that said ‘I wish I’d done that’ so I thought I could do this marine conservation project, dive and learn about fish species,” she explains. “I may not have gone to university to study like my original plan, but I can say I’ve achieved that little goal, ticked it off my check list,” she laughs.
When she returned from Fiji, Charlotte walked into a new role and a new challenge at BAE Systems. She was selected from the entire pool of manual workers to harness test knowledge by electronically analysing test failure data and recommend corrective actions that contribute to product reliability and safety. This known as Real Time FRACAS (Failure Review and Corrective Action System). “What I do is take the failings and anomalies in production and see if there are any trends, and try and drive the improvements to stop them happening,” she explains.
Charlotte has big career dreams, and aspires to work her way further up the career ladder. “I really want to head up a project. I want to be in charge, to become a production leader. I aspire to be like my boss, an operations manager. I’m not sure exactly where, but my goal is to head to management,” she says. Being awarded the 2012 WES Prize means a great deal to Charlotte, as she feels it is industry recognition of her achievements to date and that it will support her management career aspirations. “Just to be nominated as a finalist was completely overwhelming to be honest,” she says. “It’s brilliant to be recognised and awarded for the work you’ve been doing,” she enthuses. “I can only imagine it will do wonders for my career and will also give me an extra level of respect from the guys I work with,” she adds.