Craig Wannell: My apprenticeship journey

05 February 2024
Senior Project Engineer

Meet Craig, a Senior Project Engineer who joined the company as a Technical Apprentice at our Yeovil site in 2011.

What is your current role?

I’m a Senior Project Engineer at Leonardo’s Helicopter business in Yeovil.

What does a typical day/week look like?

The best thing about my role in the engineering project office is the potential to get involved in a variety of work each week. The current project that I am working on is in its early stages, so my day-to-day is mainly focussed on attending design, system or planning reviews. Interspersed around these reviews, I get involved in writing and reviewing engineering documents that require the endorsement of the projects office, ensuring that, as a company, we are going to meet our contractual and certification requirements when we deliver the final aircraft. As part of my role, I also help to coordinate the overall engineering workload for the project – ensuring that multiple technical areas are working together – and enabling them to complete their tasks in line with the current schedule.

Why did you choose to join an apprenticeship scheme?

During my final year of secondary school, I attended a careers presentation delivered by Leonardo. This really opened my eyes to the work that gets done at the Yeovil site to design and build helicopters. I was unsure on whether I wanted to go to university, and after a taster day at a local sixth form, I was confident that I didn’t want to continue down that path. I have always been more hands-on with my learning, so an apprenticeship at Leonardo seemed like the perfect choice for me.

What inspired you to pursue a career in aerospace?

Growing up in Yeovil, just up the road from Leonardo, I would frequently see a helicopter flying over our house. Even though it was a common occurrence, I would always race to the window as a kid to watch them fly past, doing the usual exaggerated wave hoping to get some sort of response! For me, helicopters were just the start. I was lucky enough to attend the Air Day at RNAS Yeovilton with my family almost every year. The event gave me the opportunity to see so many different types of aircraft up close, just a short distance from my home, and this drove my interest in aviation. For me, the highlight was always the huge Commando assault at the end of the day featuring fast jets, helicopters, ground vehicles and so much more. 

What is the best thing about your current role?

The opportunities for involvement with other areas of the business and meeting new people. Being a Project Engineer at Leonardo really relies upon good communication and co-ordination with everyone who works on a particular aircraft programme. Project engineering really has opened my eyes to all the different ways that the company operates. When I started in the Engineering Project Office in January 2023, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect – but it is clear to me now that there will never be a dull moment in this role.

Do you have any advice for someone looking to enter your field?

Do your research. Visit airshows, lectures and any events that you think will interest you. At these events try to talk to people in the industry about their experiences and don’t be afraid to ask them for advice either. Most people I know would be more than happy to talk to anyone who is interested in joining the aerospace community.

What has been the greatest achievement in your career?

As an apprentice, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to join Leonardo’s Yeovil trainee charity committee, which is tasked with organising the social aspects of the training scheme and raising money for a chosen charity. My role on the committee was the charity lead, so it was my job to organise the fundraising activities. Over the following 12 months, we worked together to raise in excess of £30,000 for a local charity, and as a part of this I received the award for the most active member of the committee.

Would you recommend an apprenticeship to people looking to make a first step in their career?

Yes. The apprenticeship scheme has changed a lot since I joined as a Technical Apprentice in 2011, but the quality of education and personal and professional support that you receive as a trainee at Leonardo is still second-to-none. As an apprentice, you will get to work alongside experts in their fields – a unique opportunity that can’t be understated. In addition to this, the latest apprenticeship schemes allow you to gain degree-level qualifications without the personal expense, which is invaluable.

What are your aspirations for the future?

As part of my role as a senior project engineer, I am actively working to gain chartership through the Royal Aeronautical Society. Within the next few years, I am hoping to be able to add ‘IEng’ after my name!

Our Apprenticeship Opportunities

Our Apprenticeship Opportunities

Our highly-regarded apprenticeship programmes – covering hardware and software engineering, business and cyber security – offer intensive training programme lasting 2-4 years, which results in apprentices graduating with a substantial depth of skills in their specialist area.