Nurturing upcoming talent is a key part of our philosophy at Cosworth, and our apprenticeship programme is one of the many ways we continue to implement this into our everyday operations.
Nurturing upcoming talent is a key part of our philosophy at Cosworth, and our apprenticeship programme is one of the many ways we continue to implement this into our everyday operations. With the engineering landscape changing every day, women are becoming more commonplace at the forefront of our industry. Heather Blackwell joined us in 2022 as a metrology apprentice, and as part of her role she gets to work on topflight projects like the Aston Martin Valkyrie.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background before you came to Cosworth?
Before I started at Cosworth in September 2022, I went to school and grew up in Basildon. I took my GCSEs during the pandemic, came out and started my A-Levels before deciding to pursue an apprenticeship full time.
What made you choose Cosworth?
I was torn between doing medicine or engineering after sixth form and about a year into my studies, I decided A-Levels weren’t for me. I spent the last six months of my time at sixth form applying for apprenticeships, as engineering has been something I’ve been interested in from a very young age. I took part in a STEM Day at Ford Dunton and that really kickstarted my interest. Growing up in Essex, I spent a lot of my life around ‘fast Fords’, there’s a lot of love and a big community surrounding that part of car culture. That inspired me to pursue an automotive apprenticeship, so when the Cosworth one came up, I knew I had to go for it. I was so familiar with Cosworth as a brand and their history, as well as their current projects – it really piqued my interest.
In what ways did the apprentice programme provide the hands-on experience that sets it apart from other opportunities?
Through college and sixth form I was able to get a basic introduction to CAD (computer-aided design) software programmes, but we never got in-depth experience with industry-based versions. Coming to Cosworth allowed me to become a lot more familiar with metrology and the role I am in now through the programme. Being hands-on, has allowed me to gain a much better understanding of what’s involved in different parts of the industry, as well as the software that engineers are using in the real world. Being able to learn how to use them in such a short amount of time has allowed me to adjust and adapt to the role much quicker and in a much more effective way. Going through the apprenticeship route was also preferable to me over the degree option. I feel like the way women usually get into this industry is through the degree route, so it was great to be hands-on from the get-go.
You had to relocate for this role, was there a good support system within Cosworth to get you settled in, not only internally but also in day-to-day life?
Everyone was great. I moved out at 17 so it was a big jump, but everyone has made me feel very welcome. When I first moved up and I was still that 17-year-old, there was a real sense of care for how I was settling in up here and even suggesting things do to and where to go, as I wasn’t familiar with the area.
What projects have you been a part of that has allowed you to apply the knowledge that you have gained during your time so far as an apprentice? What has been the most rewarding aspect so far?
I have designed and made some fixtures for our CMMs (Coordinate Measuring Machines) for current projects, including cranks for the Aston Martin Valkyrie. It’s satisfying to be able to identify the problem and then create the fixture to generate a solution. Going through the whole design process and seeing it being made is really rewarding. When it’s something that you have designed, it’s cool to see it come to life.
What were the benefits of going into an apprenticeship over going down the degree route?
Being able to have the networking experience in the workplace was a huge benefit. You meet people with such varied backgrounds, rather than being in a lecture hall with other students and one Professor. You can gain so much more understanding by talking to people about their background and what they do in their everyday working life. You are also presented with real world challenges – you have to work out for yourself why something might be wrong, rather than being presented with a photo of something and being told what’s wrong.
What has the support system been like from the ground up?
Sam Robinson, our Apprentice Trainer, has given me some brilliant support since he’s been here. Everyone in my department also help massively; they share a lot of their knowledge and are more than happy to talk through what they are doing and how the results we come up with effect processes like machining and vice versa. It’s also nice to be able to share these things with other departments and how different processes involve us, and the similarities between them.
What’s it like being a female in such a male dominated industry – especially one that is changing so regularly?
I was pleasantly surprised with how many women there are across all of the departments at Cosworth. It’s a strange feeling to be in the industry now, when not too long ago I was looking up to the likes of Susie Wolff and Hannah Schmitz, and now I am a part of their world. They inspired me because they were different, and now we’ve come such a long way that it’s widely accepted as normal.
What advice would you give to a female that is looking to apply for an engineering apprenticeship?
I think it’s really important to find the right support. When I was looking, my Head of Sixth Form helped me with mock interviews and other formal processes. If you’re interested, start to research the apprenticeship schemes and even other jobs that may be on offer. You never know what you may end up feeling passionate about – this was my first venture into metrology, and I have flourished in this role.
What advice would you give to someone looking to join the Cosworth apprenticeship programme?
Other than just do it, as soon as that window opens you should get your application in. Take a look at all of the roles on offer throughout the company because there are so many openings in different departments. From marketing to dyno build, there are so many projects coming to fruition that will always need apprentice help. It’s the kind of role that sets you up firmly for the future.
Are there any exciting upcoming projects that you are particularly looking forward to?
With Cosworth going back into the World Endurance Championship in 2025 as an engine manufacturer, I am looking forward to becoming part of the team on that project. I love endurance racing and was at Le Mans last year, so it will be amazing to be involved with the inner workings of that. There are more track and road cars coming which I will begin to work on too, it’s great to be able to talk to fellow engineers and technicians about what we will be working on in the near future!