Gaining a master’s through a modern apprenticeship – a Q&A with Systems Engineer Russ Windle
09 Feb 23
09 Feb 23
Russ Windle joined our mission systems team in November 2020 as a systems engineer, following 22 years in the Royal Air Force as an avionics technician working on various aircraft platforms. Since the beginning of his RAF career, he has always strived to learn more, grow professionally, and develop knowledge in wider areas; and thanks to our commitment to nurture the talent of our team, his time at Inzpire is no different.
Russ is currently studying a modern apprenticeship to achieve a master's in systems engineering from Loughborough University. We caught up with him to find out more about this training, the benefits to his career and his top tips for people thinking of embarking on similar professional development.
Russ, firstly please can you tell us more about your role at Inzpire?
I help in the development and production of the GECO Mission Planning System; broadly I can be involved in requirements capture, configuring hardware, process improvement, unit testing, and system testing (developing test procedures and undertaking testing of equipment). These tasks are done in support of the chief engineer and the rest of the team, to allow mission systems to continue to satisfy customer requirements; delivering a high-quality product and support.
You’re currently studying a modern apprenticeship within this role to achieve a master's in systems engineering – please could you tell us how this came about and what’s involved?
Systems engineering is a relatively new discipline within engineering and one I can’t recall being talked about during any of my previous experiences. When I began my role at Inzpire I found that I was often asked by former colleagues: “so Russ, what does a systems engineer actually do?”, to which I sometimes struggled to answer in any other way than replying: “it’s kind of being a jack of all trades and master of a few”.
My experiences in the early days of the role and natural inquisitiveness made me think I ought to be able to answer that question in a more detailed way and so I took to Google to see if there were any training courses/qualifications I could undertake to gain a better understanding of systems engineering. This resulted, with the help of Vicky Tinsley our learning, development & talent manager at Inzpire, in discovering a modern apprenticeship course offered by Loughborough University in systems engineering.
After discussing the course content and commitment with the management team within the Mission Systems division, who are fully funding the course, they agreed it would be very useful for both my personal development and to the overall team.
The course is broken into eight individual modules plus a final dissertation to attain the master's degree qualification. As an apprentice we are also required to keep a record of key knowledge, skills and behaviours developed during the course. Successful completion of the apprenticeship demonstrates you have achieved the standard of practitioner against the selected profile of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) competencies.
How do find balancing your workload and studying for the qualification? – And what support do you get from Inzpire to help with this?
Inzpire, and particularly mission systems management, have been superb in supporting my studies. One of the commitments when signing up to the apprenticeship is that 20% of your working hours will be spent doing ‘off the job training’. This makes balancing work, study and family life a lot easier. Any areas where I may require specialist help from members of my team are easily addressed and task planning is put in place to enable me to get exposure to those elements of the business.
At the beginning of the apprenticeship, I was also assigned a work-based mentor, who just so happens to be our chief engineer. He is always available to help and guide my studies, often lending books from his personal library if he thinks they will help, as well as offering the odd nudge if he thinks I’m straying off topic. He will also always help to try to relate the topic to processes or tasks we carry out in mission systems to help cement the knowledge further.
What have the benefits been to your role and career so far?
An increase in confidence has been the main benefit. I now have a better understanding of what other people in the team are talking about and this has helped chip away at some of the imposter syndrome I felt during the early part of my time with Inzpire. I was always confident in my own abilities but undertaking the course has truly improved my knowledge and demonstrated that I knew far more than I thought.
Another member of the team is also taking the apprenticeship alongside me which helps the whole team, as some of the ideas and concepts we have covered could help drive some change in how we do business as a unit. This will obviously take time, but the green shoots are sprouting.
What are your top tips for anyone looking to start a modern apprenticeship scheme?
Take the time to pick the right course and choose one that aligns with your role; that way you have a much better chance of gaining the full support of your colleagues. Research the provider, look at the testimonies of people who have previously taken the course and don’t be put off by the commitment. A relatively short amount of time spent now will stay with you for the rest of your career and may lead to further training development opportunities down the line.
And one last thing… make sure you take full advantage of the student discounts on offer once you become an apprentice!
Technical and Strategic Services OBU
Inzpire provides a number of requirements managers across a wide variety of platforms and capabilities
Our team are here to help. If you have any questions, no matter how big or small, please get in touch.