February 27, 2018

Russell Burgess is the Chair of the Aerospace Industry Reference Committee. He is the Senior Coordinator Apprentice and Intern Programs at Qantas.

Russell Burgess

Tell us a little about yourself and your industry experience?
I started as an Aircraft Maintenance Electrical/Instrument apprentice at Qantas in 1979 and have had opportunities to progress my career within the same organisation. I have also been involved in various committees related to skills development for two decades.

My current role at Qantas is to maintain compliance in the recruitment, registration, and performance management of training in accordance with national Training Package and respective State Training requirements. I also oversee the Qantas Engineering Services Winter and Summer School Intern Programs.

I was previously an Engineer and Leading Hand, working on a range of aircraft avionics systems and components relating to Boeing 707, 747, and 767 aircraft, and military aircraft including the Navy A4 Sky-hawk and Hercules C130A and H models.

During my time with Qantas, I have mentored and taught over 3,000 learners and have achieved a 96% completion and graduation rate.

Why are you passionate about Vocational Education and Training?
I have experienced a rewarding career and am keen to give back to the industry that has given me so much. Having started my career as an apprentice, I am dedicated to teaching others what I have learnt over the years.

I believe that Vocational, Education and Training is an integral part of business success and equips people with knowledge, practical skills and learning how a business as a whole works.

Mentoring apprentices is one of my favourite roles. One of the rewards is seeing new recruits enter with limited skills and graduate as qualified tradespeople. It’s also been great to see these employees progress to other areas of the business.

It has also been pleasing to see an increase in the age of apprentices with 60% of new recruits now over 21 and coming from different industries.

In 1990, I started my involvement with skills and training industry based committees to develop a national curriculum. This early work has changed into the competency-based system we have today and it have been rewarding to ensure that industry skills requirements are captured within a national training system.

What’s the next big thing in your industry?
The materials used in aircraft construction – we’re seeing an increased use of carbon fibre technologies. New materials will impact how aircraft structural repairs are undertaken and will lead to new skills requirements.

Biofuels also have the potential to significantly change the way engines are designed and maintained.

Changes to digital components and electronics onboard aircraft and moving to data bus arrangements. Lower voltages and lighter components impact how wires are configured and components maintained.

What are the emerging skills needs in your industry?
The differentiation between trade specialisations will become less obvious with tradespeople needing to know more about different areas. One of the key emerging skills needs is the ability for all team members to undertake fault finding and troubleshooting.

While technical skills are important, good people skills are the backbone of success within any organisation.

Diverse crews will also impact management of staff with teams heading toward becoming less specific and across multiple technologies. Leaders and managers will also need skills to be able to manage and work with a diverse group of people – whether it is age, gender, different skill sets, or cultural diversity.

How can we make the training system better?
Industry is focused on trying to meet regulatory requirements and ensure a range of aircraft are flight worthy. Access to high quality training is important to industry so the workforce has the skills and knowledge required to maintain a broad range of aircraft and technologies from basic instruments to high tech equipment,

The industry is calling for better access to a consistent level of training which requires improving Industry-RTO partnerships.

Access to training is being achieved through technology and the use of simulation will become more prevalent. A simulated environment means apprentices can practise their skills without damage to equipment. However, this needs to be coupled with access to real equipment for learners to achieve competencies.

Training in regional areas is also important for the industry – we need to extend our wings (so to speak) to ensure training is accessible in regional and remote areas across Australia which rely on aircraft for access to essential goods and services.

Funding variations across States have also impacted on training consistency. Governments could consider national funding arrangements for some industries, which don’t have high demand, but where quality outcomes are important to control the quality and assessment of training – particularly when linked to regulatory requirements.

There also needs to be better clarity in regard to the different certification levels to assist industry in understanding the intended employment outcomes. Clarity in regard to the credentials issued by RTOs will also assist industry in making employment decisions.

Industry also needs to play its part in training learners. A recent survey the IRC conducted reported a reduction in hand skills from apprentices; a better understanding of what is and isn’t delivered on the job is required as is the role supervisors play in training.

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