Science minister Amanda Solloway explains why England’s first space engineering apprenticeship is set for launch
“Without you Tom, we wouldn’t have gotten to the Moon.”
Those were the immortal words of gratitude expressed by then President, Richard Nixon, in 1961 to British rocket engineer Tom Bacon at a White House reception to mark the successful completion of mankind’s most audacious mission; the Apollo 11 moon landing.
But who was Tom? Well, Francis Bacon, or ‘Tom’ to his friends, was a former apprentice at a Tyneside factory who spent 15 years making a living at CA Parsons, a producer of steam turbines in Newcastle.
Tom emerged from his apprenticeship as a pioneer, imbued with an abundance of ingenuity and a never-say-die attitude that would lead him to make a critical breakthrough in developing the hyper-efficient fuel cells – eventually dubbed ‘Bacon cells’ – needed to help translate the moon landing from an intellectual idea into a practical reality.
Today, in 2020, we are talking a good game about making the UK a global player in space, but if we don’t want our ambition to become tired, off-the-shelf Government rhetoric, we need a new generation of Tom’s.
Fortunately for us, space is one of our most dynamic and fastest growing industries – and I use that word deliberately. Space has established itself as a industry in its own right in the last decade, growing exponentially by 60% since 2010 and creating thousands of good jobs in all corners of the country – satellite engineers in Glasgow, spaceport architects in Cornwall and Earth Observation data specialists in Nottingham.
Across the world a commercial space age is just getting started, and its being shaped by many of the companies that are based on UK soil. These are businesses in need of an army of space talent and in the next decade, they aim to create 30,000 new jobs. That means new engineers, new technicians and new designers.
We know that out of this world jobs like these are not always easy to come by and that to fill high-skilled roles, you need highly skilled applicants. Apprenticeships that can give our young people a leg up shouldn’t be limited to traditional industries, which is why today we are proudly announcing our first ever space apprenticeships scheme.
Currently, apprentices training in space roles gain qualifications as general apprentices and craft apprentices, but that will all change in January next year when the first cohort of budding young space engineering apprentices begin their courses.
Since I became Science Minister last year, the world has changed a fair bit, but during a year in which the normal rhythms of our lives have been enveloped by this pandemic, I have seen first-hand the life-altering power that a well-structured apprenticeship can have – it can hand over the keys to a career, like Tom’s, that many kids growing up may never have thought possible.
This apprenticeship course has been purpose-made in partnership with the University of Leicester and Airbus to offer a longer, higher quality learning experience that will help our young people gain the skills they need to build a career in this sector.
These are going to be jobs that will not only be beneficial for our next generation of space cadets, they will be beneficial for the whole country – building our status as a space nation, attracting investment and encouraging new companies to base themselves here.
I was eight years old when Tom helped make the Moon landing possible. It is one of the defining memories of my childhood – one that I shared with family and one that inspired me to believe anything is possible.
As we look to the future, when mankind plans future trips to the Moon and Mars, our space apprenticeships will tell our next generation that they can make anything possible.