Monday, May 13, 2013

May 13th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Recently I was honoured to be a part of the team visiting Airbus in Hamburg, Germany, regarding their ‘Dual System’ Vocational Training Programme. Apart from being impressed by the enormity of the A380 in production (the rear passenger and tail cone areas with a massive carbon fibre pressure dome) and the A320/321 from fuselage to final assembly line, the site carried more impressive exposure than just aeroplanes.

Bicycles. Yes, bicycles. Lots of them. Everywhere. Company bikes! Each one with a company logo and a registration number, used to move between locations on the massive dockside and airfield site that is home to the A380/A320/A321 build and delivery centre. On the one hand you have the unlikely, magnificent yet ‘visually-conceptually-unable-to-fly’ Beluga aircraft, flying aircraft sections inside its cavernous belly, between Toulouse and Hamburg, hanging in the sky like a whale, beached upon the clouds; on the other hand, the people that make it happen are pedalling their way around the site on company bikes! Appropriate transport, meeting needs, being efficient and fitting into the bigger scheme of things. In fact the slogan everywhere is ‘A380 – see the bigger picture.’

Then there was the company ‘pool-car’ parking area. Apparently, made up entirely of Mercedes Benz automobiles. From the boxy A-class to the luxury limousine classes, and all the models in-between; the parking area for the cars must have covered a couple of acres - at least. When a car is needed, the employee makes a request and the most appropriate vehicle is designated to them. Not the one that goes with their status, but the one that goes with their need. I am only left presuming that there is a lack of ‘snob-status’ in the company and a unified, corporate belief in the overall purpose of their mission.

The young people showing us around were full of energy, enthusiasm and competence. They were apprentices, learning about aircraft engineering, with a guaranteed job if they completed their three and a half year course. They were surprised at the questions coming from the Ghanaian group. ‘How many rivets in that section?’; ‘How many kilometres of wire on that aircraft?’; ‘How much electrical cable is required on the A380?’; ‘How many people are there involved in building this aircraft?’; ‘How many aircraft do you deliver per day?’ and my favourite, ‘Who is responsible for the learning for the Apprentices?’

The answers were not always available, but the notable point is that Airbus has a full order book, and if you wanted one, you would be at the back of a NINE year order book! Yes, NINE years. With practically one aircraft per day being delivered, it is clear that the organisation is busy! 

Just as in our part of the world, they have a challenge with personnel. With around sixty thousand employees, and many thousands more employed in the annexed industries, they still have a constant, rolling, head-count of around one thousand apprentices! Planning for future growth, ensuring that they have suitable people available, guaranteeing the human collateral needed for sustainability.

We were shown an advertisement. A group of girls sitting in a coffee shop, chatting, laughing and smiling. One of them shows a picture on her mobile phone of an aircraft. The girls gather around. After a few seconds, the door opens and a man enters with what appears to be a number of shoe boxes. The girls go wild and rip open the boxes, eyes wide, smiles wider, squeals abounding in all directions. The boxes contain tools, safety equipment and work clothes… the girls are thrilled. Finally, the girls (who really are apprentices at Airbus) join hands as they walk the production line. Impressive. Very impressive.

The advert is part of an Airbus campaign to increase the intake of young women into aircraft engineering! 

In fact, the young apprentices that we spoke to were all full of the thrills of being in the industry. Whether in the mechanical build, electrical or other areas, they embraced their jobs, and the security that goes with it.

The young men informed us that ‘girls are tidier’ and ‘are less aggressive’. Interesting admissions from the well-built German men. Of course, the education system in Germany is part of the reason for the success of their programme.

 At the age of eleven students are streamed into three school strands. Stand 1 is aimed at completion of schooling by 16 years old, and entering the workplace. Strand 2 is aimed at completion by 18 and having options open. Strand 3 is aimed at those who would normally go through to university. It was interesting to see just how much practical working experience, such as apprenticeships, has a high value in Germany!

The Airbus programme takes students from all three schooling systems, from the age of sixteen to those in their early twenties. Each of them given the opportunity to reach their personal full-potential. One of the youngsters we spoke to had been working on a building site, and realised that he had more potential than his position allowed. In Airbus he has blossomed – from ‘brickie’ to aircraft engineer. (over 3,000 applicants apply annually for just a few hundred places!)

The young women who we spoke to had so much confidence, it rather took us aback. Then we realised that they had been enabled, in more ways than one, by their apprenticeships, they had been given the opportunity to do something that had probably never entered their minds before chancing across this option. 

I must admit that it reassured me that the programme here in Ghana for young women is on the right track, following the same reasoning as the Airbus programme, albeit on a smaller scale. Young women need to be given more opportunities in engineering and aviation – and it begins today.

The Ghanaian AvTech Academy team are currently recruiting for the August intake of Vocademic Aviation and Technology Apprentices. Admittedly, it is not Airbus, but it is the very same set of skills and personal realisation opportunity that is offered in by the European giant, right here on our doorstep. 

With 80% of the time spent on the ‘shop floor’ and 20% in ‘classroom and classroom like’ situations, the AvTech programme is designed for young women from the rural areas. It is targeted at those girls post JSS (16-19 years old) who have the potential, but have lacked opportunity.

For those interested in finding out more about the opportunities for young women to enter light aviation, engineering and the associated industries, and how the Vocademic Apprenticeships work, you can find out more at – you will be surprised at what is on offer here in Ghana.  

Perhaps in the near future we will see the support for such apprenticeships across the region, and when you do, please remember, you read about it here first!

Oh, and the answer to that question ‘Who is responsible for the learning for the Apprentices?’ - the answer was very clear;

‘As apprentices we must drive our own learning programme – we must take responsibility to learn and achieve – success lies in our own hands’.

I guess the slogan ‘A380 – see the bigger picture.’ has more meaning that we might at first perceive.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail )

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