Bombardier Boss Flies High With Apprenticeship
Colin Elliott outlines the value of the apprenticeships route to his career which coincides with the Department’s for Employment and Learning’s current review of ApprenticeshipsNI to ensure the programme benefits both the economy and society in Northern Ireland. Colin Elliott could scarcely have imagined when he opted for an apprenticeship that he’d eventually be involved in the design of some of the world’s most successful aircraft. Today, Colin is Vice President of Engineering and Business Development at Bombardier Aerospace in Belfast and manages a team of around 700 engineers. “I was trying to decide whether I wanted to go to university and was encouraged to look at an apprenticeship by my careers teacher at school. This appealed to me because I had always been good at practical work, trying to find out how things worked and fixing them when they didn’t. I wasn’t really that keen on studying back then. I was 17 and didn’t know what I wanted to do in terms of a career, but I knew that I wanted to do some form of engineering,” he says. The advice from his careers teacher led Colin to apply for an apprenticeship and he was accepted by Shorts, as the company was known, in 1977. “It was the best move for me because it opened the door to huge opportunities within one of Northern Ireland’s best known and people focused companies. I developed practical and industry relevant skills and was also encouraged and assisted to gain qualifications that helped me to build a rewarding and satisfying career,” he adds. Colin spent the first year of his three-year apprenticeship in the company’s dedicated training centre working with experienced and highly skilled staff. The course included one-day a week studying engineering at Belfast Institute of Technology, now known as Belfast Metropolitan College. “The work in design also included day-release courses leading to a range of nationally recognised qualifications in engineering including ONCs and HNCs. This meant I was able to broaden my knowledge and sharpen practical and relevant skills for my career within Bombardier while being paid. I was able to develop skills, knowledge and expertise that the company required to ensure success in today’s highly competitive aerospace industry.” After a few years in the Design office, Colin moved on to the structural stress analysis team. He says it was excellent timing because the industry was moving rapidly towards the use of composite materials and he had the opportunity to get on board with new technology from the outset.
Currently, one of Colin’s key areas of responsibility is the design of advanced composite components such as the wings for the more fuel efficient Bombardier CSeries commercial aircraft that’s due to enter airline service next year. “There’s no doubt that an apprenticeship can be both demanding and challenging, but it can be very rewarding. Those who want to develop a worthwhile career in industry will find that an apprenticeship helps them to go further, faster. “Opportunities in engineering and manufacturing are growing as an increasing number of companies seek young people they can train and develop quickly to enable them to respond faster to today’s dynamic international markets. “Bombardier has long recognised the important role that apprenticeships play in enabling us to have the right people, with the right skills, at the right time. We work closely with Belfast Metropolitan College on skills programmes and currently recruit around 40 apprentices a year. Training and development are high on our agenda and the company has close links with all levels of education in Northern Ireland, including universities. In addition to our annual apprenticeship recruitment, we usually take on around 30 graduates.”