Can you help Thales in the UK shape the future of engineering?
Thales in the UK understands that having a diverse workforce is essential for its continued success, which is why we are committed to addressing the historic gender imbalance in UK STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) industries. Currently, only 16.5 per cent of the UK engineering industry is made up of women and we know from 16 onwards, the number of young women studying STEM subjects falls dramatically, which is why we work with schools, colleges and STEM partners to help everyone see the exciting career paths available in these sectors.
At present, 23 per cent of Thales employees are women - a figure we are determined to increase. We are committed to doing whatever it takes to enable women to excel in their careers and continue to grow the company's diversity.
We’re looking for the next generation of ambitious engineering graduates who’ll shape the future of engineering at Thales in the UK. We’re committed to turn our raw graduate potential into innovative and skilled professionals who can grow our business.
We’re also looking for new entrants to our Business Management Programme – with placements at the heart of the business.
We recently talked to one of our engineering graduates, Emma Chivers, about her experiences as a STEM student, her impressions of working life at Thales in the UK and her hopes for the future.
Emma is a 24-year-old master’s degree graduate, originally from Portsmouth.
She studied aerospace engineering at the University of Bristol, as a four-year integrated course, before joining Thales’s graduate programme.
What drew you into pursuing a career in engineering?
At school I took maths, further maths and physics A-levels at college, and really enjoyed those subjects. When it came to applying for university, I was looking for a qualification that had an immediate practical use, which led me to considering engineering. I looked at the different branches of engineering and found aerospace was a good fit with my interests.
A related topic that interested me was sustainability. Now I’m in the engineering industry, it’s becoming clear that everyone is trying to incorporate that aspect into aerospace developments. That’s really important to me.
Tell us about what you’ve been doing on the Thales graduate programme?
I joined it just over a year ago. The engineering graduate scheme lasts four years and includes four year-long placements. I think a year for each one is just right. It gives you time to understand the project and make an impact. On the other hand, if you find you’re not as interested in that placement, you don’t have long to wait for the next one.
My first one was based at Crawley, working on an avionics project. My work mostly revolved around model-based test planning. I got involved in a lot of tasks, including major project management decisions with senior colleagues.
I’m now just a couple of weeks into my second placement. This time it involves sonar technology, which is relatively new to me, and I’m hoping I’ll get to see some submarines as part of it. The project will be mainly focused on modelling, for which I’m going back to some of the equations and things I thought I’d left behind at uni.
Do you move around the country between placements?
Yes. I’ve now moved from Crawley to Cheadle, near Manchester. This is an aspect that attracted me to the Thales graduate scheme compared with some of the competitors. I didn’t know where I wanted to live and work, and I’m enjoying the opportunity to move and see other places.
What else made you choose Thales amongst all the other graduate schemes?
The chance to change roles each year was one of the biggest attractions. It offered a lot of flexibility and contact with the whole business. For the first two years, the Thales scheme also includes a course in engineering management with the University of Cranfield, which I found enticing.
It makes for a comfortable transition, meaning you’re not leaving university completely behind and going straight into full-time work.
Another key influence on my decision was my university tutor, who worked for Thales and was one of our best lecturers. Talking to her reassured me that Thales was a diverse and interesting company to work for, and it’s proved true.
Are you feeling positive about Thales helping you to excel in your career?
Definitely. Being able to change placements and decide where to go next gives me confidence, especially. That will help me in deciding, toward the end of the scheme, what area I want to roll off into permanently. We also have mentors who support us in working out our preferred direction and what we need to do to get there. What we’re learning on the university course will be helpful too, ensuring we’re ready for chartership in the future.
By the end of the four years, we should all have found a role that suits us. The factors shaping that choice will include the people we’ve met, the networks we’ve created, the particular skills we’ve developed and the knowledge we’ve gained of different areas of the business. Everyone will see a clear path and options for career progression. For me, there’s still much to work out in terms of what role I see for myself, but I know the support I need is there.
The flexibility to move within the company isn’t limited to the graduate scheme, either, it extends into full-time roles as well. It feels like Thales is very keen to help people find the role that suits them best – and to be the best they can be.
What’s your long-term ambition?
I think it’ll become clear as I go through the placements. One question I’m working on is whether I’d prefer a technical role or more of a managerial position. I’m hoping to get stuck into a lot of technical content in my new project.
Another consideration is what branch of engineering I want to specialise in. I started out thinking it would be strictly aerospace, but the new project is letting me explore something completely new and interesting. The graduate programme is opening my eyes to new sectors and will help me discover where my real passion lies.
One of the things that put me off some of the competitors’ graduate schemes was the way you had to commit to one role from the start. What if you found you didn’t like it? Would you be able to try a different one or would you have to leave? I don’t have that worry with Thales.
Before joining Thales, what was your experience of the challenges faced by women in engineering?
When I went to university, I was already well aware of how few women there were in the STEM industry. Of a hundred people on my engineering course, fewer than ten were female.
I always knew I liked maths and physics, but I never saw engineering as something I could do. I thought of it in terms of hands-on work, and it wasn’t until I started applying for universities that a family member suggested I look at engineering. Reading through university prospectuses, I realised what was available and it suddenly clicked – very late in my school life.
It’s not an industry that many people are aware of as children. But I think boys are more likely to find their way into it, as their interest in military games and stories makes them think about things like aircraft.
What has been your experience of Thales’s efforts to attract women into engineering?
Thales has definitely made strides here with its strong focus on inclusion. Amongst the staff already working in the company, Thales tries to raise awareness of the challenges different people face. Networks have been set up so women in the company can share ideas and problems, or just find familiar and friendly faces.
The company is also supportive and flexible to women around maternity breaks and other family-related needs. I’m not at that stage of life yet, but I’ve spoken to female colleagues who’ve said that Thales is very good at giving them the time they need, and not letting it affect promotions or future ambitions. Even if they’re not physically present at work, the company always keeps them in mind.
In both of my placements so far, I’ve been reassured to see women as heads of departments. Although men outnumber women as a whole in the organisation, it’s really inspiring to have met women in positions I might aspire to in the future.
Do you feel passionately about changing people’s perception of women in engineering?
I do. All Thales graduates are given 80 hours a year to dedicate to voluntary activities. Some of my voluntary work this year has been targeted at showing girls that they can be involved in STEM work, and trying to be a role model for them.
I’d like to think it won’t be long before there’s much less of a difference in the numbers of male and female applicants for engineering degrees. In university and job recruitment processes, there does seem to be a lot of effort now toward being fair to all types of people.
For further information on Thales’s graduate programme, visit our Engineering and Technology Graduates page