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UTC Aerospace Systems Wolverhampton: A Legacy of Learning

For 60 years, Wolverhampton’s apprenticeship program has developed employees’ skills to prepare for the future of aerospace

For 60 years, Wolverhampton’s apprenticeship program has developed employees’ skills to prepare for the future of aerospace
For 60 years, Wolverhampton’s apprenticeship program has developed employees’ skills to prepare for the future of aerospace

How does UTC prepare for the future? By investing in our people.

For one example, look no further than a longstanding apprenticeship program at the UTC Aerospace Systems Actuation Systems business in Wolverhampton, U.K.

For more than 60 years, participants in the Actuation Systems apprenticeship program have contributed to both UTC and the local community while gaining on-the-job expertise and building their future skills.

The Actuation Systems site in Wolverhampton manufactures high-lift systems and other components for civil, commercial and military aircraft and spacecraft. Currently, about 95 people, ages 16-25, are in the middle of a four-year, work-study scheme that comprises the factory’s apprenticeship program. Some have relatives who have either been apprentices, worked in the aerospace industry, or both. Others have long dreamed of developing innovative technologies adopted by the aerospace industry. All navigated a rigorous selection process that UTC Aerospace Systems uses to find those emerging workers best suited for Wolverhampton’s culture.

“Our program stands out by exposing apprentices to lots of hands-on engineering work and encouraging them to pursue a degree after their four years here," says Lisa Swan, Wolverhampton Operations Director and Site Lead. “As a result, this program has developed a cachet among applicants as one of the best in the country.”

In year one, apprentices spend one day each week learning math, electronics, mechanics and other disciplines at a nearby EEF training center. They spend four more days in the center’s workshop, developing their abilities at turning, milling, welding and other skills needed by UTC Aerospace Systems. In year two, they advance to classes about technical drawing and forming and finishing processes, and rotate among the Wolverhampton factory’s different sections, familiarizing themselves with such activities as design, quality assurance and testing.

Over the final two years, apprentices complete a Level 3 National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) in engineering and hone their skills in one specific area of the factory. “Each year, about 95 percent complete their course work and continue their career here,” says Rebecca Marandola, Wolverhampton's Learning and Development Lead.

Although Wolverhampton’s apprenticeship program has been in existence since the 1950s, it’s been anything but static. The number of accepted candidates has jumped from eight in 2015, to 32 this year. There were no female apprentices before 2015; now the program welcomes two or three each year. “Meanwhile, the curriculum evolves as the aerospace industry evolves,” says Marandola. “Apprentices work with electrical components more than before. And, they’re now making the knowledge exchange two-way, by helping senior staff better understand the computers and software they work with.”

“There’s been a push recently to communicate that apprenticeships represent an opportunity to earn as one learns,”says Donna Halfpenny, Wolverhampton Communications lead. “Today they’re viewed as alternatives to university that still provide a fantastic education.”

“It’s heartwarming to watch youngsters grow with the business and see them go from working the shop floor to attending manager meetings," she says. “Most of the apprentices live within 30 miles of the factory,” she adds, “so the program is also seen as contributing significantly to the economies of local communities. We expect to take on even more apprentices to ensure our workforce needs of the future get met.”