Earning and learning: undergraduate apprenticeships at Airbus

Profile: In the second of our interviews with Airbus grads, The Student Engineer speaks with Daniel Quinn, an Engineering Undergraduate Apprentice at the aerospace giant. 

Airbus starts making the wings for first A350 XWB

What made you choose an apprenticeship and why did you join Airbus?
Engineering was an area I was keen to get into as I’ve always been fascinated by aircraft and how they fly and stay in the air. By doing an apprenticeship you get a degree like everyone else but you also get a lot of career experience. It is something a lot of businesses look for now to show that you can put what you have learned from your degree into practice. People at university have the theoretical knowledge but they may not have the practical knowledge you get from an apprenticeship.

Another benefit from an apprenticeship is the money. You are getting your degree paid for and earning a salary instead of ending up with thousands of pounds worth of debt.

What’s your typical day like?
A typical day is very difficult to describe. I am working within the Manufacturing Engineering Department in a Technical Support role. Our job is to support the build and fix any issues which operators are having with the build of the aircraft. If they need any additional tooling, any tooling to be repaired or any modifications to tooling then it is my job to raise documentation to get these changes made. If they require support on any issue whilst completing the build, whether that be the processes that are used to build the wing or enquiries with drawings then again that is where I will be supporting them. Other tasks which the department complete include updating processes, informing

If they require support on any issue whilst completing the build, whether that be the processes that are used to build the wing or enquiries with drawings, then again that is where I will be supporting them. Other tasks which the department completes include updating processes, informing design of drawing errors and drilling & process improvement projects. So a typical day will consist of tech support on a variety of issues as well as working towards the completion of projects which have been assigned to me and sourcing projects which can be next in line to improve the build process.

Tell us about a project you’ve been working on recently?
I’m currently working as part of a project which looks at possible savings in fasteners by seeing where there is an overstock being bought in and how to cut back in these areas. It will bring in a massive cost saving to the business and is a good project to be involved in because you get to learn about different areas of the build. You’re understanding which fasteners are used where which is really interesting. The project involves lots of reading through drawings and supporting documentation which gives you good exposure to the build process and also how everything works at Airbus.

Apart from your day-to-day role, what other projects have you been involved in?
I’ve worked on a lot of different projects at Airbus. Last year I worked on a project that was focused on bringing in a system for tracking tooling better in order to understand the requirements of each shift and what tooling they need. I was the lead on the project which was a really good opportunity.

What are the key things you’ve learned since joining?
There are so many. I have learnt a lot about teamwork within engineering and how all the departments work together in order to produce a product of such a large scale. I have also learnt about the approved methods for running projects within Airbus and the difficulties that there can be when trying to deliver projects. I’ve also gained knowledge of the various build processes used on different Airbus products along with learning all the components which go into the wing in greater detail.

Where do you see yourself (career-wise) in five years?
I would then like to take a year out of further education to settle into my final job role within Airbus and gain a year’s experience in this department. Following on from this I would look at one of two avenues: complete a Master’s Degree course alongside completing numerous management courses within Airbus with the view to applying for a management role, or working towards my licenses to have a possible career in the maintenance sector. During the next five years, I would also like to complete a secondment abroad with Airbus in their factories around Europe and now the rest of the world. I feel I am part of a business which will offer the best opportunity for this career goal to become a reality.

What’s your favourite thing about working for Airbus?
At Airbus, if you get into a good placement where the manager trusts you and sees that you’re working hard, they will let you take projects on and push you to help out with all sorts of projects. You get great exposure to the real life problems of building the aircraft and you will also be part of fixing those problems.

From the apprenticeship, I’ve been able to learn and help with the build process. When you see a plane in the sky you start to think you’ve played a part in that and have put something towards it. It fills you with a sense of pride. When I was travelling back from Stockholm recently I rather “geekily” searched the registration of the plane I saw on the tarmac and it was an A330 which had been built whilst I had been working on the product. It was a really nice feeling.

What’s the one thing that will make young people want to work at Airbus from your perspective and why?
Airbus is a great company to work for because the opportunities offered are brilliant. From day one you are told that you are the next generation of engineers at the company and can be an asset to the company from your first day at the factory. There are rewards for hard working apprentices who go that extra mile to impress. These include trips to other engineering facilities, air shows and activity weeks in Germany and France which give you the opportunity to create links with apprentices from other facilities around the world.

Money is also a motivating factor. You are working towards a BEng Degree and getting paid for it. It is a great opportunity considering some students are having to pay around £15,000 a year to complete a university course. I joined Airbus because it is a company which is known worldwide. They have factories across the world which gives you the opportunity to broaden your horizons. You can experience different working cultures and meet new people.

Doing an apprenticeship at Airbus also means I am getting a Bachelors Degree in Aeronautical and Mechanical Manufacture along with completing a number of nationally and internationally recognised qualifications.

What do your friends think about what you do?
In my group of friends there is only one person who went straight to university, seven of us have taken on apprenticeships. One friend even started an apprenticeship instead of doing their A-levels and they have found it brilliant. They’ve learnt exactly the same amount as anyone at college/university would have and also gained experience through working alongside other people at the company.

I’m going to come out at the end of my time here with a degree, other qualifications including NVQs and project management courses, and I’ll also have three years career experience in a business. If you do everything right and tick all of the boxes you can hopefully get a job at the end of it too. I just feel an apprenticeship framework gives you so many more qualifications than you would ever get from just going to university.

What advice would you give to a candidate interested in joining Airbus?
Apprenticeships are a fantastic opportunity. The money motivates people a lot of the time and it is a big thing but I would say you have to love the subject too and enjoy getting up for work every day. Sometimes you come in and the jobs aren’t the ones you really want to do but you’ve got to take the good when it comes and get through the bad. Overall you have to enjoy getting up for work every day and that’s why whenever people come to me I encourage them and I ask them are you passionate about the subject? Do you like engineering? If yes, it’s the right thing for you.

It’s a lot of work doing a degree and a job at the same time so you have to enjoy it. It’s a full on three years but is worth it in the end. An Airbus apprenticeship gives you the best chance to go from a background of no engineering experience to a fully qualified engineer in three years. You’re learning a lot more being out there on the job.

What is the funniest thing that has happened to you since you started working at Airbus?

As part of the apprenticeship you get the chance to go on various team-building weeks and to meet apprentices from other sites. I went across to Toulouse along with a few others. The whole experience was full of funny moments. One of the training school managers came out with us and took a paintball to the head when we were out paintballing which made us all laugh a lot. That’s probably up there with one of the funniest moments.

Because you’re with the group of apprentices for the three years you make good friends. You try to make the most of it because as serious as making sure you get your degree and working is, everyone is still young adults who want to enjoy themselves. We try to organise social events outside of work when we can. There are some people who came straight out of Sixth Form College into this and you do question if you’ve missed out on the university lifestyle or the more social side of studying. However, you meet some great people at Airbus and I’ve come out with the same degree but also career experience. Hopefully it has made me a lot more employable because of that experience.

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