Melanie Markey was at an early-career crossroads. After finishing secondary school in Gloucestershire, England, where she’d grown up, she passed A-levels (university entrance exams) in business and had recently finished a human resources apprenticeship at a local engineering and manufacturing company. Yet she wasn’t convinced HR was her calling, and she knew she wasn’t cut out to be a full-time university student. “I’m more of a hands-on, learn-on-the-job kind of person,” she says. “I really wanted further qualifications, and a degree, which my previous apprenticeship didn’t offer. But I was unsure about what I wanted to do next.”

When Melanie saw an online posting about the supply chain business degree apprenticeship at GE Aerospace Cheltenham, she was intrigued. And she knew just who to ask about the nearby company: Her sister, Sophie, was about to begin her third year in Cheltenham’s five-year engineering apprenticeship program.

 

Above: From left: Melanie and Sophie Markey. Top: Melanie Markey (front row, center) and Sophie Markey (back row, fourth from left) at Cheltenham Pride 2023. Images courtesy of Melanie and Sophie Markey. 

 

“I told her it was a fantastic opportunity,” Sophie recalls. “You do six-month rotations, working in different areas of the business, which help you become a well-rounded professional. You come out with so many valuable experiences. And you earn your degree.”

The supply chain’s rotational structure, which includes six-month stints in functions related to sourcing, materials, planning, and supplier quality, was especially appealing to Melanie. “You get to find out what you’re best at before you choose your entire career,” she says.

She also liked that supply chain apprentices who start at the same time attend classes together throughout the four-year program. “So you’re not isolated,” she says. “You have a cohort and you can form friendships as you would with a full-time university experience.”

Melanie applied for and ultimately accepted a position in the seven-person cohort that began in October 2022. Now, just over a year into her apprenticeship, she’s already excited about what she’s learning and doing. “Every month,” she says, “it’s something new.”

 

Keeping Work and Home Separate

It’s not unusual for members of the same family to work at GE Aerospace Cheltenham, which is one of the largest employers in Gloucestershire. More than 1,600 people work at the site, each playing a part in the design, development, and manufacture of avionics and power distribution systems that will be used in aircraft around the world.

With that many people, and a sprawling, 64-acre campus, neither Sophie nor Melanie is surprised that they have yet to cross paths. “We’re in completely different sides of the business, and our buildings are a good 10- to 15-minute walk apart,” says Melanie.

That’s too far for a quick meetup. They’re more likely to spend their breaks getting to know their teammates, discussing coursework with fellow apprentices, or meeting with one of their informal mentors — more experienced co-workers who can provide advice or answer questions as needed. When their schedules allow, both Melanie and Sophie attend GE Women’s Network and Pride Alliance events; each has completed training that allows them to deliver Pride Alliance ally diversity-and-inclusion presentations for employees throughout the business.

The siblings agree that developing their own workplace friends and identities is important. “It’s good for us, in a way, that we can keep our work and our home life separate,” Sophie says. “Here we are colleagues. At home we can be sisters.”

As sisters, they enjoy hiking, camping, and spending time with their extended family, but they make a point of avoiding shoptalk at home. “Some other people in our family also work in aerospace industries, and there are things we shouldn’t share about work,” Sophie explains. “So it’s just easiest to talk about other things.”

 

Same Responsibilities, Same Accountability

Cheltenham apprentices earn while they learn, working four days a week alongside full-time team members, with one day a week at university. “We have responsibilities and are accountable just the same as everyone else on the team,” says Melanie.

Along with the rest of her cohort, Melanie attends classes held on-site by Coventry University, where she expects to earn her bachelor’s degree in business leadership and management in 2026. Through her engineering apprenticeship, Sophie attends classes at the University of the West of England, in Bristol, from which she will receive her bachelor’s in electronic and computer engineering in 2025. Their tuition costs are fully covered by GE Aerospace via the U.K. government levy.

Each academic program is designed by the universities in close collaboration with GE Aerospace Cheltenham, so apprentices graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed there. Some apprentices accept full-time positions after completing the program, and Sophie and Melanie hope to do the same.

“I’m looking to do my final rotations and then hopefully roll off into a job here in systems or software engineering,” says Sophie. She’s spent time working in other departments, such as hardware engineering and test engineering, but these are the areas that feel right to her “on both the theoretical and process levels. They just click with me.”

It’s too early for Melanie to lock her career trajectory into position, but she’s excited about what she’s been doing in her initial rotations, first strategic sourcing and now sourcing fulfillment in the Defense and Systems department. “I’m currently managing eight suppliers,” she says. “I track orders we’ve placed with them and make sure everything gets to our doors on time.”

No matter which path the sisters choose at the end of their apprenticeships, a potential career at GE Aerospace can include a variety of opportunities for personal growth.

“If you look at the career maps for people on our leadership team and senior leaders, not one of them has been linear,” says Melanie. “At GE, you’re not boxed in. You’re never far away from an opportunity to change your career and move around the business.”