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Seven young men have got their careers off to a flying start with Bristow Helicopters. The youths, all aged between 17 and 21, landed modern apprenticeships with the global leader of helicopter services.
They beat off competition from almost 120 others to secure the prestigious training in Aberdeen.
The young men, from as far afield as Great Yarmouth, are currently studying at Air Service Training, Perth, embarking on the second stage of their apprenticeship and working towards their Category A3 License. This is the first step in gaining a full aircraft maintenance engineer's qualification.
When the course is completed in October, they will then return to the Bristow Base in Aberdeen for their On The Job Training, where they will carry out the remainder of their apprenticeship.
The highly sought-after apprenticeships are a vital element in the drive to plug the engineering skills gap required for the aircraft industry. Aberdeen supports the busiest heliport in Europe, serving the North Sea energy sector and carrying out around 40,000 flights a year.
Bristow Helicopters, along with the rest of the industry in Europe, recognizes the forthcoming skills shortage due to their demographic profile. Qualification routes for aircraft maintenance staff became much harder to achieve, within a reasonable time period, following the introduction during 2003 of the European Aviation Safety Agency's Part-66 aircraft maintenance licensing structure. A Part-66 license entitles the technician to certify that aircraft maintenance has been carried out safely, correctly and meets European legal requirements.
With their previous experience of running apprenticeships and engineering training courses, Bristow Helicopters decided to re-introduce apprentice training that ensured initial qualification to SVQ3 and their Category A3 license level within two years.
Phil Mitchell, Bristow Helicopters Director of Centralized Operations, says Bristow recognizes that apprenticeship programs can make its organization more effective, productive and competitive by addressing skill gaps directly.
"The apprentices although qualifying for their Category A3 licenses are strongly encouraged to continue further study and work experience and go on to reach the higher level of competency and performance by qualifying for their B1 and B2 licenses. The B1 license qualification is for mechanical technicians and is a sub-divided into four categories, B1.3 is the category for Gas Turbine Helicopters, B1.1 refers to Turbine Fixed-Wing Aeroplanes," he explained. "Aircraft radio and autopilot systems require a different license, called B2, these aircraft electronic systems are commonly known as Avionics.
"We also recognize the potential of the direct entrant, who is very interested in becoming an aircraft engineer, not coming through the apprenticeship scheme, but usually coming from a previous engineering background. Trainee Fitters, through this direct entry scheme are also taken on each year; their training mirrors the apprenticeship in many ways."
One apprentice, Aberdonian Ross Bisset, 21, was determined to follow his brother Craig into the business where his sibling is a pilot with another local company.
Ross, whose hobbies include going flying with his brother whenever he gets the chance, first became interested in helicopters about six years ago. He said, "I had heard about Bristow and knew they were one of the largest helicopter companies in the area so I knew this was a great opportunity."
The youngest recruit is 17-year-old Andy Patterson from Gardenstown near Banff, who was looking for a career in engineering and discovered the Bristow apprenticeship during an engineering evening at the local Banff and Buchan College.
"I found out that, unlike many companies, you don't need an engineering degree to get into Bristow," he explained.
And it was a chance to make his own way in the world for Steven Westgate, 21, of Great Yarmouth. He saw the opportunity advertised in his local paper and, as it was based hundreds of miles away in Aberdeen, decided it would provide the ideal chance to leave home and get fully qualified.
They are all following in the footsteps of 18-year-old Naomi Watson from Caithness who is a year ahead of the youths and has already completed her initial training at Tullos and Perth. She is an apprentice aeronautical engineer now based back at Bristow Helicopters Ltd in Aberdeen.
She said, "I've always been a hands-on type of person, and from the age of about 12, I knew that the one thing I really didn't want to do was work in an office. The problem then was working out what I did want to do!"
"Scatsta, a heliport in the Shetland Islands, was five minutes up the road from my house at the time and after talking to the folk there I decided I wanted to work with helicopters."
Now back at base, doing her on the job training, she says life is hugely interesting working in a live hangar rather than the training hangar.
She said, "I've spent time working in base maintenance which has been absolutely fascinating, seeing the aircraft being taken apart, inspected and cleaned."
"As I am only 18 at the moment, I have 3 years to wait before I can certify maintenance, which gives me sufficient time to complete my studies and also gain the experience I require to get a B1.3 license, the full aircraft engineer's qualification.
"But being a girl, hasn't stopped me getting on with my job in a male dominant industry, I have not been treated any differently."