• David Pitchforth speech at the AMRC apprentice awards

    11 March 2015 - 
    David Pitchforth
    Keynote speech at the AMRC “apprentice of the year” awards
    11 March, 2015
    (Check against delivery)

    Distinguished apprentices, supporting employers, suppliers, sponsors, ladies and gentlemen –thank you for the warm introduction and Yorkshire welcome.

    As a proud Yorkshireman from the west riding, I would like to start by saying how nice it is to be back home even though we are technically in the South.

    We are very proud at Boeing to have been part of the AMRC right from the very start 14 years ago – a £15 million collaboration between the University of Sheffield and Boeing, with valuable support from Yorkshire Forward and the European Regional Development Fund.

    That is a long time ago, 2001 - The world was changing dramatically, Yorkshire were county cricket champions (as they are again now), The England Cricket team were not doing so well. (Sounds Familiar). George W Bush was sworn into office as the 43rd President of the United States, the first Harry Potter film –the Philosopher’s Stone – was released, petrol was 78p per litre, beer was less than £2 a pint.

    Despite passing of time and a massive amount of change, Boeing is still here, still committed to supporting this fast-growing research and training campus in the heart of Yorkshire that has already inspired a generation of people.

    As a former apprentice myself, I am delighted to be here today; the values, skills and knowledge that you learn here will – believe me – stand you in good stead for the rest of your lives. I believe in the value of apprenticeships so much that half of my leadership team at Boeing Defence UK are former apprentices and the company is all the better for that.

    Indeed, the importance of apprentices is recognised at the highest level. I was with the Prime Minister last month and he specifically requested that he meet some of Boeing’s apprentices - Jack Hazeldine, a recent Boeing graduate who now works at Odiham on the Chinook MK6 programme and Alexander Palmer and Jake Woody, both in their second year on the Boeing apprentice programme, working on our Through Life Customer Support programme in Gosport and they, like you are integral to the future of this country.

    And you can have a varied and interesting life – I have worked in Europe and the US, worked for major brands like the Ford Motor Company and Boeing, and even had “entertainer” as my occupation on my passport! Seriously – when I ran the Jaguar F1 team we were all classed as entertainers – but don’t expect me to burst into song!

    Tonight we are recognizing achievement, innovation, fresh thinking, raising standards and awareness, values that all of us at Boeing hold dear to our hearts. Before I sit down, I am going to touch briefly on just one of these themes – innovation. I will not bore you with an academic definition but give you some ideas to ponder and mull over.

    Bill Boeing, the visionary engineer who founded Boeing almost 100 years ago, once said “we are embarked as pioneers upon a new science and industry in which our problems are so new and unusual that it behooves no one to dismiss any novel idea with the statement, ‘It can't be done!’"

    During the last century, we have gone from walking on Earth to walking on the moon; from riding horses to flying aeroplanes. With each decade, aerospace technology has crossed another frontier, and, with each crossing, the world changed and “big ideas” have become reality. We accredit these realities to the vision, skills and perseverance of the apprentices, engineers, designers – everyone working as one team.

    Can you imagine being given the task of getting a man – or woman – onto the moon and returning them safely to earth? And, to do so, build the largest rocket ever built. A massive task, even today with all of the modern computing power to help us.

    Well, back in the 1960s Boeing stood up to this task; we built the majority of the components of the Apollo spacecraft and the giant Saturn V moon rocket used on all manned lunar missions and were the programme management and system integration lead for NASA.

    Now put yourselves in the shoes of the young trainees and the whole team tasked with this. There are no reference points, no history – how do we do it? How do we design, engineer and build a rocket to take three people to the Moon?

    You have to be innovative and imaginative on all aspects of the project: when I tell you that the first stage alone (there were two others) burned for about 2 minutes and 41 seconds, lifting the rocket to an altitude of 68 km and a speed 9920 km/h (2,756 m/s) and burning 2,100,000 kg of propellant. It was, by then, 98 km downrange.

    This first stage provided over 34 meganewtons of thrust – wow! But it was done, successfully, thanks to imagination and innovation –and never giving up. There was no ‘it can’t be done’ attitude.

    In fact, the Saturn V remains the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever brought to operational status; it was 363.0 feet (110.6 m) tall.

    We are building SLS…

    Bill Boeing, said in 1929 “they will someday regard airplane travel to be as commonplace and incidental as train travel...” and over 80 years on from these comments Boeing’s engineers are turning out 2.78 completed commercial airliners, ready to fly, each and every working day to meet the demands of ‘commonplace travel’. Some achievement!

    I sometimes still ask myself how is that possible? It’s possible because innovation doesn’t just mean coming up with new ideas for building exciting products, innovation means designing new methods and processes to transform the way we work and keep up with the demands of change.

    Last month, a Chinook helicopter with the designation ZA671 took to the skies in Gosport, on the south coast, flying for the first time since April 2012. So what? Chinooks are flying all the time, aren’t they? Well, yes they are but this is no ordinary aircraft and the reason it is flying is innovation, collaboration and teamwork – and global teamwork at that.

    What happened was that the aircraft was being flown by the RAF in the United States, at the U.S. Naval Air Facility, El Centro, in Southern California where they were preparing for the hot and dusty conditions in Afghanistan.

    In an almost catastrophic accident – for both crew and the airframe - on landing in the dust, the front rotors touched the ground and started a series of events that basically ripped both front and rear pylons off –and this is one strong, well-built aircraft! It was nearly declared the equivalent of a write-off, to be scrapped. But it wasn’t. Boeing works to the ethos that we can always “Build Something Better” – we strive for excellence and don’t accept that things cannot be done.

    Led by our UK team on the “through life customer support programme”, this helicopter was rebuilt completely through vision, skill, teamwork and innovation. It was delivered back to the RAF on 3 February, on time, on budget and ready to return to front line duties.


    And the programme manager on this colossal project was Simon Jones, a former mechanical apprentice – so what you learn here at the AMRC really does translate into valuable, tangible results!

    Another lesson to be learnt here is that there is nearly always someone, somewhere who can help; in Boeing we call this reach-across and it makes us all the stronger for it. Our “help needed” culture allows us to seek out and give help no matter what the issue is –it is with remembering during your careers.

    To expand on help with your careers, you need to make sure you find yourself mentors to help guide and drive your journey. Many of the people in this room, in your employer, are happy to help you long after your apprenticeship. The analogy I use is that you wouldn’t be happy if your favourite sports team didn’t have a manager or coach so this must also be true about your career.

    To conclude, it is a real pleasure to be here this evening. Congratulations to all of you on your achievement! Enjoy the night and enjoy your work; keep learning and keep innovating; if you don’t win tonight, keep striving.

    Remember to ask for help if you need it, you are the future of many businesses in the UK so start thinking what you want do and drive for it.

    For the overall winner, enjoy the trip to Boeing in the UK & US and make the most of it and please feed back to your class mates.

    The short film we will show you in a few moments will certainly whet your appetite for the trip!

    The examples that I have shared with you this evening are a snapshot across our industry, not just Boeing. And what all of the examples I gave you tell us one thing - that the sky is not the limit.

    Thank you.

    [Click to view the short film.]

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