As part of its drive to produce artisans and technicians for the aviation industry, Denel Aviation continues to invest in their education, and is currently training 90 apprentices at a cost of R100 000 a year per student.
“It is costly but it is a necessary investment in an industry that demands the highest standards of craftsmanship, technical expertise and adherence to safety requirements,” says says Natasha Davies, Executive Manager: Human Resources at Denel Aviation.
Air traffic in Africa is growing rapidly and the growing number of aircraft require high level maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) work. Indeed, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) says Africa remains the only region in the world to experience strong growth in commercial air traffic. Africa’s carriers moved 11% more people in November 2010 than during the pre-recession peak in early 2008, according to IATA. Meanwhile, the African Airlines Association’s 2010 report projected Africa’s average traffic growth to be higher than the world average for the foreseeable future.
Denel Aviation says it is currently responsible for the majority of new artisans and technicians entering the job market every year. Training covers the entire spectrum of aircraft maintenance including mechanical work, electronics, avionics and sheet metal pressing. Davies says the company is inundated with applications for learnerships every year. Entry requirements are high including a minimum proficiency in maths and physical science and a number of skills and aptitude tests are also concluded.
The 90 selected students receive their first year theoretical training at the Denel Technical Academy (DTA) which provides a broad introduction to all the disciplines in the aviation maintenance industry. The DTA is accredited with the Transport Education Training Authority (TETA). Following the first academic cycle the students continue their apprenticeship at Denel Aviation and other aviation companies in the country. Denel Aviation continues to monitor their progress through a mentorship programme and they are also required to write regular trade examinations as they move through the ranks. “We have an excellent reputation in the industry for the quality of the artisans we produce,” says Davies. “The global need for technical skills in the aviation industry is growing and many of our former students are now employed across the world, in Africa, the Middle East, New Zealand and Australia.
“In this way we are making a meaningful contribution to air safety and raising the levels of skills in the industry,” she says. To grow the pool of prospective qualified students Denel Aviation has introduced a programme to teach mathematics and science to high school students in neighbouring communities. Engineers from Denel Aviation volunteer their skills and time on weekends to tutor learners from the Reiger Park High School. The company is also helping to dispel the myth of the aviation industry as a male-dominated environment. Women represent 30% of the current intake of students and the numbers are growing every year.
Denel Aviation markets its training programme through visits to selected schools and at trade fairs, career expos and air shows. “There is often a perception among the youth that aviation is only about pilots and air hostesses,” says Davies. “We are introducing them to a wide range of career opportunities, all of which are vital to ensure a plane stays safely in the sky.”
In addition to Denel Aviation, Denel Dynamics is involved in tutoring science and mathematics to school students. Every Saturday staff from the company currently tutor students from the Steve Tshwete Secondary School in Olievenhoutbosch outside Pretoria.
School headmaster Kenneth Ndou says there has been a 30% improvement in the average mark of students for these two subjects since the joint project with Denel Dynamics was introduced in 2008.
“The results were visible at the end of 2010 when the school received two distinctions in mathematics and for the first time in the history of the school two distinctions in physical science,” Denel Dynamics people development manager Venashree McPherson says.
In recognition of the achievement Denel Dynamics has awarded a bursary to the value of R90 000 to Kgaugelo Mokholwane, one of the 2010 learners from Steve Tshwete to continue his studies at tertiary level.
There are currently 55 students on Denel bursaries at universities across the country studying various engineering disciplines, including aeronautical, mechanical, computer and electrical engineering. Between them the students achieved 99 distinctions during the course of the 2010 academic year.