March 16th, 2012
Skills set to soar at Pacific Aerospace
For over 60 years Hamilton-based company Pacific Aerospace has manufactured aircraft suited to horticultural and agricultural applications, aerial survey, the skydiving industry, and passenger and freight operations. Although not a household name in New Zealand, the company has an international reputation for manufacturing high-quality aircraft that perform where no other can.
Pacific Aerospace administration manager, Catherine Wetton, is mindful of their teams’ specialist skills. The company saw a need to put a plan in place to ensure those skills are passed on.
“We’re in a highly specialist industry, so it can be difficult to recruit people locally with the skills required,” says Catherine.
“We decided a few years back it was time to start formally taking on apprentices, and train to get the skilled people we need to keep growing,” says Catherine.
And now, two young men - Cameron Furer and Dwayne Griffiths, both 21 - enjoy the distinction of being the company’s first apprentices to come through and complete their apprentice training plan.
Cameron and Dwayne were presented their Competenz-developed National Certificates in Engineering – Light Fabrication (Level 4), and their success celebrated at a ceremony organised by Pacific Aerospace in December, 2011.
Their success is underpinned by a strategic partnership between Pacific Aerospace and Competenz, and a future-proof plan to attract solid ‘new blood’ to the industry and provide an optimum environment for skills transfer throughout the business.
Cameron’s pathway to success
Cameron Furer (pictured, right) is a quietly determined young man, and an ideal candidate to kick-start the company’s apprentice training programme. Having gained a number of mechanical engineering units while at high school in Te Awamutu, Cameron had a good base of useful engineering skills and knowledge.
“I also used to help Dad out at our family business, repairing small engines for lawnmowers, chainsaws - that sort of thing.
“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 part-time job in their paint shop and I took it.”
Then fortune smiled on him. The company soon announced they had apprenticeship openings, so he applied. Already impressed by Cameron’s mechanical aptitude and ‘can-do’ attitude, Catherine and team 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. Why not? The more qualifications I can achieve, the better.”
Dwayne’s pathway to success
Dwayne Griffiths (pictured, left) had a slightly different approach to his successful apprenticeship. After leaving high school he decided to explore his general interest in engineering.
“I did a pre-trade mechanical engineering course at WINTEC and really enjoyed that hands-on style of learning,” says Dwayne. “While doing the course I heard about an apprenticeship at Pacific Aerospace. I applied, and I got lucky!”
Catherine says 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.
“Dwayne’s a bit of a character and we enjoy having him here. 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 freely 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.”
Despite the challenges, Dwayne now sees clearly how the theory he learned applies to his every day work. “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.”
Dwayne knows he’s on to a winning career choice, and is extremely proud to have become a qualified tradesman.
“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 (pictured above, left), a former Pacific Aerospace employee, got a phone call one day that pleasantly surprised him. Pacific Aerospace wanted him to come out of his seven-year retirement to help manage the apprentice training programme on a part-time basis.
Despite the shock, he jumped at the chance to share his passion. He now works two days a week to mentor and assess the apprentices on-job, and make sure they’re learning all the skills they and the company need.
“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, also worked closely with Allan and Catherine throughout – from selection of the most appropriate qualification to link to their training, to regular support and advice on the apprentices’ on and off-job learning.
It’s clear both Cameron and Dwayne have a lot of respect for their mentor – and Allan knows how to get the best out of each of his protégés.
“He is the right man for the job – he’s always been an advocate for training, with vast industry experience and a passion to share knowledge that our apprentices respond well to,” says Catherine.
Catherine and Allan encouraged the company’s 122-strong workforce to foster a knowledge-sharing environment to support the apprentices. A rotation plan was also 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.
Dwayne and Cameron agree they got tremendous support throughout their apprenticeships.
“Everyone here is happy to help you - they want you to succeed and get it right. Doing my apprenticeship here is the best thing that could have happened to me,” says Dwayne.
Upskilling now for the future
Since January 2007, Pacific Aerospace has lifted production of its XSTOL aircraft – renowned for its extremely short take-off and landing capabilities - by 42%. And as they’ve moved into new markets including Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, India, Nepal and Latin America, that demand continues to grow.
Pacific Aerospace has made great moves to ensure their capability to meet that demand grows steadily, too.
A third apprentice, 20-year old Robbie Willis (pictured below) is on the cusp of completing his light fabrication apprenticeship too. He’s due to complete in mid-2012, and has already proven to be an invaluable addition to the Pacific Aerospace team.
In addition, 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.
It’s a future-proof plan that will ensure skill levels and capability at Pacific Aerospace will continue to soar to even greater heights.