Skills set to soar at Pacific AerospacePacific Aerospace

Pacific Aerospace has lifted production of its XSTOL aircraft by 42 percent, selling strongly into international markets. A few years back the company recognised the need to start taking on apprentices to get the skilled people they need to keep growing. Their success is underpinned by a strategic partnership with Competenz, to attract new blood to the industry and provide an optimum environment for skills transfer.

For more than 60 years the Hamilton-based company has manufactured high-quality aircraft that perform where no other can.

“We’re in a highly specialist industry, so it can be difficult to recruit people locally with the skills required,” says administration manager Catherine Wetton.

Forward thinking has paid off. The two first apprentices to come through and complete their apprentice training plan received their Competenz developed National Certificates in Engineering – Light Fabrication (Level 4) in December.

A third apprentice is due to complete in mid-2012 and three other employees recently completed competitive manufacturing training through Competenz, as part of the company’s strategy to lift productivity and manufacturing efficiencies even further.

Cameron’s pathway to success
Cameron Furer gained a number of mechanical engineering units while at high school in Te Awamutu, and had a good base of useful engineering skills and knowledge.

“I wrote a letter to Pacific Aerospace while I was at high school, asking if they had any apprenticeships going – they didn’t at the time. But they did offer me a parttime job in their paint shop and I took it.”

Fortune soon smiled on him. Impressed by Cameron’s mechanical aptitude and ‘can-do’ attitude, Pacific Aerospace granted him his apprenticeship wish.

“Cameron showed real initiative and ability right from the start – he’s very bright and keen to learn, and he fits in well with our team,” says Catherine.

Now with his light fabrication apprenticeship complete, he’s developed a taste for achievement and wants even more.

“Now there’s a new, more specific qualification available for aircraft manufacture, and I’ve signed up for that too. The more qualifications I can achieve, the better.”

Dwayne’s pathway to successPacific Aerospace
Dwayne Griffiths had a slightly different approach to his successful apprenticeship.

“I did a pre-trade mechanical engineering course at WINTEC and really enjoyed that hands-on style of learning. While doing the course iheard about an apprenticeship at Pacific Aerospace. I applied, and I got lucky.”

WINTEC recommended Dwayne to them for his strong hands-on skills, knowing they would have the right support in place to help him through the
theoretical work.

“We really wanted him to succeed so we encouraged and supported him throughout his apprenticeship – and he made it through which is a fantastic achievement.”

Dwayne admits he found the theory and bookwork tough going – the switch from metric to imperial measurements was also confusing, at first.

“I had extra math tutoring and heaps of support from the team here. Using imperial measurements is normal in this industry – over time it becomes part of your everyday thinking and it has got easier.”

“I’ve also learnt it pays to be fussy. We work to really tight tolerances and everything must be perfect to maintain the high standards needed for our aircraft.”

“It blows me away each time we roll out a finished aircraft. It’s awesome to be able to say ‘I helped build that beautiful machine’ – just awesome.”

Good support systems, great results
Allan Burdett got a phone call one day that pleasantly surprised him. His former employer wanted him to come out of his seven-year retirement to help manage the apprentice training programme.

“Keeping skills alive and giving young people the chance to learn this trade has always been important to me,” says Allan.

“I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass by.”

Competenz account manager, Allen Bryce, worked closely with Allan and Catherine throughout – from selection of the most appropriate qualification to link to the training, to regular support and advice on the apprentices’ on and off-job learning.

Catherine and Allan encouraged the company’s 122-strong workforce to foster a knowledge-sharing environment to support the apprentices. A rotation plan was established to ensure the apprentices would be exposed to the whole business while learning key skills.

“Rotating the apprentices enables them to learn all facets of our manufacturing process. It also helps them understand the importance of each step to get a high-quality, finished product,” says Allan.