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Celebrating our engineering apprentices in National Apprentice Week

By: Virgin Atlantic

February 6, 2020

It's National Apprentice Week, and to find out more about our engineering apprentice scheme and the opportunities it offers, we spoke to Carol Ferney, who’s responsible for managing this year’s intake and Paul Swain, responsible for their training. We also catch up with some of our former apprentices, to find out how their career has progressed since they joined the scheme.

What does it take to be a Virgin Atlantic aircraft engineer? It’s a job that comes with an incredible amount of responsibility. Keeping our fleet flying safely takes a vast amount of knowledge and skill, gained over many years. It also takes the best teamwork. You’ll need an analytical mind and top problem-solving skills. You’ll also need to be practical, a great communicator and able to work under huge pressure (think four hundred customers watching you out the window as you try and fix their holiday jet!)

This is a career that can lead to any number of specialities. It can take you from a desk, to inside a fuel tank, to anywhere in the world. You’ll work on the latest high-tech jets, and you’ll never stop learning. Our engineers are an awesome bunch, so finding and keeping the right people could not be more important.

Playing a big part in that process is our engineering apprenticeship scheme which finds the best people, regardless of their age and background, and puts them through a three-year National Diploma course. At the end they will have the qualifications, but more importantly the right qualities and skills, to join our engineering team and maintain our high standards. The one thing they all have in common is a love of engineering, aviation and Virgin Atlantic.

Why an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships take a more practical approach to learning than the more scholarly university route. They focus on a specific career and use a mixture of classroom learning and practical skills honed by actually doing the job working in our maintenance facilities on live aircraft. An apprenticeship gives you hands-on experience and, importantly, the opportunity to apply your skills immediately, first under supervision and ultimately with a qualification at the end of the apprenticeship. You’ll also earn while you learn.

Our newest apprentices

Meet our latest group who are just embarking on their apprenticeship. The coming three years will see them spend time together at a residential training centre before joining our teams on the line and at the hangars for practical training. Welcome to the Virgin Atlantic family (from left to right) Will Lloyd-Skinner, Archie Barker, Benjamin Spillett, Jeremy Franks, Georgia Hendry, Thomas Lappin, Toby Setterfield, Sebastien Jobbins, Harvey Bryant, Rosie Bird, Mackenzie Lee, Harry Woodington.

Meet Carol, their mum!

Not really their mum, but looking after our apprentices and their welfare is their manager Carol Ferney. Carol joined Virgin Atlantic back in 1993 as cabin crew (when she was four so she says!) After flying for 11 years, her next stop was a secondment in Nigeria where she moved into crewing and rostering. After moving back to the UK she continued to look after our crewing & pre-ops teams and became part of our crisis management team dealing with some of the big curveballs aviation gets dealt every year (think volcanos or snow).


In her current role she’s accountable for building, strengthening and maintaining relationships with the engineering workforce, and an important part of that is looking after the welfare of all our engineering apprentices. Chatting to Carol, it’s clear she’s as passionate about aviation and Virgin Atlantic as she was on her first day, 27 years ago, and that enthusiasm rubs off on our apprentices. 

 

“Part of my role is to support and manage the wellbeing and development of the apprentices,” she states. “I work closely with their training manager Paul Swain and his team to ensure the journey from their first day to finishing their apprenticeship is a fantastic experience. Over the next three years we’ll ensure they’re supported every step of the way through the emotions that come with moving away from home, and their academic study.”

Apprentices Rosie Bird and Harvey Bryant chat to MP Michelle Donelan, who visited the hangar today.

"I'm really lucky to be their manager. I get to see these young people at the start of their career and watch them develop into brilliant technicians and engineers" – Carol Ferney

Our apprentices spend the first nine months of their apprenticeship in the Cotswolds with our training provider Resource Group. They then join us at Gatwick for the next year, putting what they’ve learnt at Resource Group into practice while continuing to work towards their NVQ Qualification. Their last year is usually spent at Heathrow where they continue to hone their skills and finish their apprenticeship scheme.

Paul, the teacher

Our 2017 apprentices, now in their third year at  Resource Group training. LtoR George Ilbury, Chay Oliver, Macauley Rhind, Richard Fry, Joseph Brewer, Paul Swain, George Ilbury, Ben Brashen, Steven Stiopou and Rebecca Hoibek

As our engineering training manager, Paul Swain is responsible for the technical training of all maintenance staff, ground safety and equipment training and the technical aspect of our apprenticeship programme. They couldn’t be in better hands as Paul used to be an apprentice and a licenced Aircraft engineer, “I can appreciate the value of having internally grown apprentices, who have developed their skills and knowledge working within our Part 145 maintenance facilities” he said. “It’s rewarding to see our apprentices transition through this national vocational training programme and grow as individuals from their experience in both the foundation and development phase of their learning.  Supported all the way by our engineers acting as mentors in the hangar work placements, we can guide and hone their skills to become fully rounded aircraft engineers, proud to part of the Virgin Atlantic engineering team.

“History has shown that many of our previous apprentices are now in supervisory and management positions. This is a true testament to their training, dedication and the personal development opportunities that Virgin Atlantic offer” - Paul Swain.

The class of ’99

Meet (from left to right) Mike Riley, Bill Driver, Aaron Arnold, Gary Pelham, Liam Ashworth, Paul Deeks and Rory Johnston. What’s so special about the class of ’99 is that 20 years after starting their apprenticeship together, all seven still work here at Virgin Atlantic – demonstrating the high levels of job satisfaction and retention we see with our apprentices.


The picture also shows how diverse their eventual career paths can be. It was impossible to get the seven of them together for a reunion photo because they all work at different places and on different shifts so we had to compromise with a composition photo!

 

Gary and Bill work as technicians at Gatwick where they look after the day to day operation. After a spell as a certifying engineer at the hangar, Rory moved to our Ops Control Centre in 2014 as part of our technical operations team. Their job is to monitor our aircraft anywhere in the world, and use their knowledge and experience to keep them flying safely and assist with operational decisions. It’s a job where a quiet night shift can turn into full-on problem solving and contingency planning at any second. Paul, Liam and Aaron work as certifying engineers ‘on the line’ at Heathrow. They describe this as the A&E of the airline world, where these complex machines can throw up any number of challenges that need troubleshooting and fixing while keeping disruption to a minimum. Mike is also a certifying engineer, but he works at the Heathrow hangar where he runs planned maintenance and special projects. Most recently he’s managed a challenging piece of work on our Airbus aircraft which all needed navigation systems upgrades to comply with new laws in the USA.

 

Our very first apprentices

 

Our first group of engineering apprentices from 1992 (the new ones aren’t required to wear ties!) With job titles in brackets for those still working for us.

Back row: Keith Bunce (Heathrow technican), Nick Raymond (certifying engineer), Gary Webb (engineer, tech ops). Front row: Wayne Isard (manager aircraft maintenance), Alex Booker, Roy Gardner (our former chief executive), Darrell ‘D-check’ Thompson (certifying engineer) and Daniel Hinde (certifying engineer, cabin maintenance).

Virgin Atlantic

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