When British Airways Engineering relaunched its apprenticeship program in London four years ago, its director of engineering was focused on recruiting new talent and skills to fill an engineering resources gap, identifying future leaders, and preparing for receipt of the airline’s first Airbus A380 and Boeing 787.
Saying the four years since 2010 have been dynamic is an understatement. British Airways acquired Iberia in 2011 and became part of the International Airlines Group; received its first A380 and 787—within one week of each other—in 2013, following six years of preparing for the types; and has intensely focused on productivity improvements.
Since relaunching the apprenticeship program at London Heathrow after a 16-year hiatus, the intake has been steady. “We take an average of 100 apprentices each year at our London base with another 20 at our engineering bases in Cardiff and Glasgow,” says Keith Rose, British Airways general manager for quality and training services.
Nearly 500 apprentices are in various stages of the program today.
The airline MRO offers two apprenticeship programs at London Heathrow. One is a three-year industrial apprenticeship that prepares students to gain a Level 2 or 3 qualification in aircraft maintenance through Farnborough College and an EASA A license.
The other is a two-year business program “designed to give apprentices a wide basic knowledge of the engineering support organization covering a range of subjects from inventory management, quality, operations and commercial,” says Rose. Most of these apprenticeships gain a Level 3 business qualification and a degree shortly thereafter.
British Airways Engineering has hired more than 200 apprentices, with “the majority of industrial apprenticeships having been taken on as aircraft mechanics,” says Rose.
The program relaunched in 2010 with 90 people starting the three-year industrial apprenticeship, which included attending Farnborough, Kingston or Brooklands colleges for the first year. The next step involved 18 months rotating through engineering departments and then six months of practical training at London Heathrow, based on operations need.
BA Engineering has moved to a single college—Farnborough—because managing the program with multiple colleges proved difficult from a consistency standpoint, Rose explains.
In addition, “We take our apprentices very much on attitudes and behavior, with some foundation qualifications. We learned very quickly that we needed to invest more time in basic hand skills, so this is now an important stage before they move into the operational environment,” he says.
BA has had good luck recruiting apprentices from the London Heathrow catchment area. “We work with colleges and schools and also local media, but we find a lot of applicants hear about the British Airways scheme by word of mouth,” says Rose. Several apprentices have family members who work at BA—“and in some cases this is third-generation,” he says.
“We have consistently run at around 1,200-1,500 applicants a year for the London-based program,” says Rose, which translates to an “average of about a 10:1 ratio of applicants for each position, which is healthy.”
While the airline MRO is pleased with that ratio, it proactively took another step in its development program by forming a partnership with Heathrow University Technical College to “give young talent [students aged 14-17] an opportunity to develop their interest in engineering,” he says. BA Engineering designed the curriculum for the program, tailored to younger ages, that started in September.
While the maintenance and engineering apprenticeship program delivers on its objectives in recruiting new talent, it also fosters leadership through its current staff. “What has been really encouraging for me on both [apprenticeship] programs is the willingness for our colleagues to share their knowledge and expertise,” Rose adds.