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Problem-solving skills ‘front and foremost for engineers in the Royal Navy’

'There is no limit on talent. If you’ve got the aptitude, then you can succeed in the Royal Navy' (Credit: Shutterstock)
‘There is no limit on talent. If you’ve got the aptitude, then you can succeed in the Royal Navy’ (Credit: Shutterstock)

Innovative thinking and determination are the key attributes for engineers in the Royal Navy, a deputy platform chief engineer from the service told an EngRec event.

Automotive, manufacturing and process engineering are just some of the sectors with plenty of relevant transferable skills, said Lieutenant Commander Steve Taylor at “Engineering careers in the Royal Navy & sustaining T23 beyond design life”.

The EngRec webinar, part of a series designed to help people develop their careers in the engineering industry, was hosted by Professional Engineering and the IMechE, and sponsored by the Royal Navy.

Type 23 Duke Class Frigates were one focus of the session. Built at the height of the Cold War and still in operation around the world, the primarily submarine-hunting ships have a design life of 18 years with an option to extend by six years. Life extension means the last will leave service in 2035.

Lt Cdr Taylor described the challenges of engineering on an ageing platform beyond its design life. “The upkeeps are very expensive, because you have to crop out vast acres of steel from the hull and replace it, because it is pitted and worn to an unsafe level over the course of six years, making for quite technically-complicated and quite long upkeep periods,” he said.

The deputy platform chief engineer also covered the “lived experience” of engineering careers in the Royal Navy, covering everything from the amount of time at sea and the high tempo of work, to salaries and the benefits of private healthcare and gyms.

Marine engineers operate, maintain, diagnose and repair engines and generators, as well as other marine systems that enable constant operation. There is a lot of transferability from outside and within naval engineering, Lt Cdr Taylor said, with opportunities for ‘horizontal entry’ to sergeant-equivalent roles on a case-by-case basis.

“I’m aware of a number of different people from all different backgrounds, quite a few from automotive coming across, and also people from mercantile marine,” he said.

“I suspect as offshore dials down, with the end of hydrocarbons, we’ll see an increasing number of that sort of horizontal entry from the offshore industry. But like I say, it’s not just a maritime field… the guys I know who’ve followed that route have come from automotive, a few from mechanical, manufacturing or process engineering. There’s certainly clear analogues between process plant engineering and running a Type 23.”

The key questions for applicants, he said, are: “Do you have the innovative thinking and the grit and determination to get the job done? Can you understand the problem and resolve it?”

At junior levels, anyone with good maths skills at GCSE and A-level are “more than suitable” if they have the required attributes, he said. The Royal Navy is the second largest provider of apprenticeships in the UK, and the accelerated apprenticeship scheme is available for everyone aged 18-38 with the requisite UCAS points or equivalent, vocational qualifications or T-level. Starting on £35,000 a year, apprentices go straight into an 18-month course that teaches everything they need, while also providing equivalent civilian qualifications.

The deputy platform chief engineer mentioned one of his own colleagues, who joined straight out of school with A-levels in 2004 and is now a captain. “There is no limit on talent. If you’ve got the aptitude, then you can succeed in the Royal Navy.”

The core skills required to sail in the navy are “courage, commitment, discipline, integrity,” he said. “We also look for leadership and management skills, and we develop those as part of any branch.  

“Specifically as engineers… problem-solving skills are absolutely front and foremost, the ability to be an innovative thinker. There is plenty of room for innovation in the Royal Navy, and we are definitely not shy. We do not hold people back if they have innovative ways to push the service forwards.”

The webinar is now available to watch on-demand.

For more information about careers in the Royal Navy, visit the Royal Navy website.  

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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