How an undergraduate apprenticeship can get your career off to a flying start

We caught up with undergraduate apprentice, David McDermott, who shares insights into his career in aerospace. 

We asked David….

What are the key advantages of the apprenticeship route into aviation?

What makes apprenticeships stand out is the vocational training and the employment. You get paid for your learning, and your education is paid by your employer – no student debts! You immediately put what you learn into practice, which really helps if you are less academic and more ‘hands on’. Aviation is a complex world, to earn the ability to sign work off takes years of experience and an apprenticeship allows you to build this experience straight after leaving school.

What career pathways does an engineering background open up to a pilot?

Being a pilot requires a diverse set of technical and non-technical skills. Engineering directly hones your technical ability in simple maths and physics which is mandatory for calculations when flying, but it also challenges you in more difficult problems and scenarios. Experience in solving engineering problems sets you up well if things go wrong in the air which require a resolution that you have to come up with.

How did the Air League help you?

After winning a flying scholarship in 2017 and taking to the sky for the first time since my Air Cadet days, The Air League reminded me what it is I want to be remembered for. Whilst I really enjoy engineering, the itch to fly was revived after the first scholarship flying hour. Nearing the end of the 12 hour programme I flew my first solo which was an incredible sensation and would not have happened without The Air League.

How does an organisation such as the Air League help you develop leadership, communication and networking skills?

There is a huge array of events and opportunities to engage in like-minded people which isn’t available to you through university or through employment. I’ve been able to share my passion for aviation with young pupils to inspire them, had opportunities to speak at organised events, and meet influential aviators who have inspired me to chase my dream.

 In such a highly competitive industry, what is your advice on how young people should differentiate themselves, through volunteering, cadet organisations, internships, international travel etc?

Definitely, and as early as possible in life, take the opportunities that arise to do something different, especially if you think they will challenge you and take you out of your comfort zone! However, often the best experiences come from opportunities that you find yourself. So as soon as you know what it is you want to do, start exploring that area, speak to people, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to ask if you can get involved.

What is your career advice to prospective military pilots?

I would say there is no ‘perfect’ route to becoming a Pilot in the military, infact our diversity is one of our greatest strengths – so it is important to be yourself and to do things because you want to, not simply because you think it will put you ahead. I am 25 and just starting as a Pilot for which I am really glad, there is no rush at 18 or even when graduating to go straight in. Most importantly, if it’s what you want to do, make sure you don’t give up if it doesn’t work out first time round. Determination and resilience are key skills in the military, so take time to evaluate where you need to improve, make a big effort to work on yourself, then go again as a better version of you.

What has been the highlight of your career to date?

At the end of the apprenticeship I had enough experience in engineering tasks to become accredited as an Incorporated Engineer (IEng). This happened just after my 21st birthday which made me the youngest person ever to recieve this accolade. This was solely possible because of the fact my apprenticeship included a BEng Degree.

What are you most proud of?

It’s 50/50 between earning my PPL and being selected to become a Pilot, but they’re both special for the same reason. I had always believed both of these were above what I could ever achieve yet now I’ve been able to prove myself wrong. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to be remembered for, and aimed directly for it. I’m excited to see where it will take me next.

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