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Cumbria Careers Hub: Mark Johnson, BAE Systems

Mark Johnson, Head of Projects at BAE Systems and currently on secondment to the LEP is Head of Strategy and Policy, is an Enterprise Adviser at the Lakes School. Here he shares his career story and what he finds most rewarding about volunteering with Cumbria Careers Hub as an Enterprise Adviser.

Tell us about your day job… what does it involve?
I have two hats, I work (and am paid) by BAE Systems in Barrow as Head of Projects however for the last few months and until the end of this year I am on a secondment into Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership undertaking a role as Head of Strategy and Policy. The role is extremely diverse and spans across a number of sectors that make up the Cumbrian Economy, from rural to clean energy to manufacturing and construction. I engage with many stakeholders and help and support initiatives that aim to develop growth and the prosperity of the economy. On any given day I could be supporting the development of work plans, participating in discussions with specific groups and helping to develop projects that support the County’s ambition. I have to understand the political landscape through our Local Authorities, County Council and Central Government. This includes the review and understanding of policy impact and how Cumbria reacts. I cover a broad church of topics and areas and ensure engagement with both the team I work with, and our stakeholder community that holds various interests.

In my previous role with BAE systems I was responsible for investment planning and prioritisation of a capital portfolio of projects that supports the business to deliver on its commitments and programmes. This included construction of new facilities and capabilities, infrastructure and introduction of new plant and equipment.

What is the best thing about your job?
Working with like minded people, driven with passion, enthusiasm and purpose to achieve collective goals and ambition for the greater good. I am hugely passionate about people and recognising diversity of backgrounds and abilities help to shape our future.

Although we say it often, it really comes down to people to make things happen and when you work with teams and individuals that have a sense of togetherness and purpose, nothing is more rewarding.

In my current role I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing and fantastic people doing some incredible things and that, from a personal perspective, its hugely inspiring. When we can achieve something born out of an idea and implement it, there is very little that is more satisfying.

Tell us about your education and career history...
I did OK(ish) at school which enabled me to start my career in the shipyard in 1988 in Barrow as an electrical apprentice. At 16 I really didn’t have an eye on a career, and it took a while for me to really get going. On completion of my apprenticeship I was made redundant, as many of us were at the time, due to a downturn in work in the organisation. This was a wake-up call, and I moved around a little bit in my early 20’s on short term contracts mainly on construction projects in the region.

I began to feel that being an electrician was something I didn’t want to do long term and was lucky to have a role on the commissioning team on the North Morecambe Gas terminal for 2 years – it was here I began to form an interest in control systems and felt it was something to progress – unqualified however, and restricted in my ambition I decided, at 24, to put myself through University. For 3 tough years (I am not academically bright but I work hard) I attended the University Of Salford and gained an Honors Degree in Communication Technology – my final year found on developing a control system for a virtual factory and manufacturing line. The week I graduated I had a call from an agency asking if I would be interested in a 6-month contract developing a simulator for a new plant at Sellafield. I was 27, didn’t have two pennies to rub together, and jumped at the chance – it was 1998.

I spent 11 years in total at Sellafield, initially on software development and support and moving into a systems engineer role responsible for developing software on specific areas of the plant. As the plant moved onto commissioning and then to production, I found an opportunity to lead a team of multi-disciplined engineers in supporting this transition. I look back fondly on this time and its one of the highlights of my career, my first real leadership role and with a fantastic team all of which I still have connections with today. Towards the end of this period I was asked to lead plant improvement initiatives (what I would come to know as projects) and thus began my personal transition into the world for Project Management. To support this, I have undertaken learning and development through a professional body (The Association of Project Management) and through my career have continued to learn and continuously improve my knowledge and experience. I am now a Chartered Project professional through the APM. I moved on to a different area of the business and was responsible for delivering projects during outages and plant downtime which was hugely fast paced and a steep learning process but fantastic as I reflect back. This period really shaped my career and to date, I have been in project and programme management, in some form, ever since.

In 2009, after 11 great years I had the chance to return to my roots – the shipyard in Barrow for BAE Systems. A long way from where I started, I continued working as a Project Manager developing into a senior role and becoming Head of Site Major Projects in late 2017. During my time with BAE I have had the privilege of completing at MBA through Lancaster University and was selected to participate in a Global Leadership Development Programme which was amazing. The organisation is brilliant for developing people and supporting careers and I am entirely grateful for that.

And now I find myself in a new role albeit temporarily, learning again and developing even more – You never do (and shouldn’t) stop learning!

If you could pick any person or organisation to get involved in working with young people, who would it be and why?
Throughout a long career many individuals and organisations shape your thinking and how you develop.

I have had many mentor figures both older and younger than myself and there is an abundance of willing individuals who contribute in many ways.

If I could pick an organisation it would be BAE Systems who have people at the heart of everything they do. A particular person would be someone like Janet Garner who is the Principle for the Submarines Academy in Barrow – Janet has provided me with advice and support over many years and champions not only young people in her charge ,but has a focus on the communities in which the organisation operates – along with her team, Janet provides a great hub for advice and development of young people.

I have also seen the development of young engineers in my own team and one member, Tom Benn, springs to mind as hugely supportive and dedicated to helping young people and trainees come it to the team with great enthusiasm and passion to share his own experiences and help them to succeed.

What do you enjoy most about being an Enterprise Adviser?
I am in the early stages and have only just taken on a role as an EA with the Lakes School in Ambleside – I think my immediate challenge will be getting to know the school, its structure and the staff as well as supporting a programme to help support the students with sound and useful career advice.

What would you say to someone else about the value of working with young people or being an Enterprise Adviser?
I have undertaken a role as mentor for many years with BAE Systems and the value I get from that is huge. Being able to offer support and guidance through my own experiences is hugely beneficial but it works both ways and allows me time to reflect or the ever-changing needs and demands of our young people.

It is a hugely rewarding experience watching young people grow ,gain confidence and achieve their ambitions in the right way. As an EA, the opportunity to approach this interaction in a wider sense will be a fantastic opportunity. It’s the chance to give something back, support a school in providing a different perspective and enhance a career offering, in terms of advice and direction. Hopefully the slow start in my own career and my personal journey will help to show you can achieve things at all stages of your life.

What would you say to any young person thinking about their future?
Take your time, your allowed to try different things , make mistakes and learn from them. The future is what you want it to be and the opportunities you can’t maybe see now will emerge as you grown and learn. There are many ways to have a career from the traditional school, college and University route but also, like me, finding your way and letting your experiences shape the things you want to do. Opportunities will present themselves when you may not expect them!

Be bold, ambitious and courteous and above all else be happy and find something you enjoy!

There is a range of opportunities in Cumbria for business-people and organisations to engage and benefit from partnership with local schools and colleges.

We are looking for employers to share their career story and inspire the next generation through videos, virtual work experience and engaging with school career events; The Enterprise Adviser Network – which Mark is a part of – involves business volunteers working with a specific school or college to strengthen and support career programmes; and becoming a Cornerstone Employer allows businesses to represent their sector and give a Cumbria-wide view. Together, they aim to ensure all young Cumbrians are prepared and inspired for the world of work.

If you’re interested in getting involved, or would like more information, please email Craig Ivison, Cumbria LEP Skills Manager:

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