Richard Jones – Head of Operations Improvement Landing Gear, Airbus
Airbus signed the Corporate Covenant in May 2015, in honour of their commitment to support ex-military personnel. Since then they've worked closely with the Officers' Association to create a pilot work experience programme to gain an insight into the benefits for both Airbus and service personnel.
This initially was for one individual in transition from the Services – in particular the placement was designed to give a serving officer a taste of what a career at Airbus has to offer, in a safe and supportive environment.
British Army Captain Leo Barnett, who is deputy manager of a helicopter workshop in Suffolk, was chosen for the placement. He faced stiff competition but with his engineering and aviation experience, Airbus decided he made an ideal candidate for the landing gear department project at its Filton site.
For Leo, this was an opportunity to gain experience of working life as a civilian, while exploring his passion for engineering and aerospace in a different environment. The month-long work placement also helped counter his fears of transition. As Leo explains: “There was a part of me that was concerned I was only suited to the Army and wouldn't adapt to a structure without rank. But now I feel a lot more self-assured about facing that ‘awkward first month' at work as a civilian.”
The experience boosted Leo's confidence but the contribution he made also far exceeded his employer's expectations.
Engineer Paul Forsythe worked with Leo on the Landing Gear Product Breakdown Strategy Project. Apart from his technical skills, he soon recognised the value that Leo could bring, even on a project as complex as this one.
Paul said: “We put Leo straight into the deep end of the project. It covers a wide spectrum of the Airbus business, from aircraft concept development to in-service maintenance and can be a daunting subject, even for the experienced engineer.”
He added: “Leo fitted in really well. I had positive feedback from everyone. It's been a good experience for Airbus, giving us the opportunity to ask questions and tap into Leo's expertise.”
As well as his own perspective regarding airworthiness and safety, Leo brought an innate willingness to ‘look at the bigger picture', a capability that's nurtured from the start in the military.
Leo said: “In the Services, we're taught to disregard where our job begins and ends. We're expected to address the wider problems or challenges facing the team, and question how they can be solved. I think that sense of collaborative spirit, which is instilled in us, was appreciated at Airbus.”
A lot of Leo's role was based on going through data, distilling information and presenting possible solutions to the senior team, based on his findings.
Leo said: “After two weeks of investigating complex issues, I went from being a little unsure as to where I could help, to believing I could add real value. I think they were pleasantly surprised with the extent of my input.”
Initially, Leo faced the workplace with some trepidation, but he found there were more similarities between the civilian environment, and life in the Army, than he originally predicted.
Leo said: “The atmosphere was very welcoming and there was a good feeling of camaraderie within the team. I felt that my contributions were appreciated and listened to.”
Subsequently, Leo feels far more confident about leaving the Services in September and transitioning into civilian employment.
"A stronger sense of purpose and direction"
He said: “Before, I wasn't sure where I wanted to go but now I have a stronger sense of purpose and direction. I know I want my career to be more people-focused than in the military. I think my ideal role would be a technical project manager. I was really given the chance to thrive during my time on the placement and didn't realise how much I had to offer.”
The project was initiated by Head of Operations Improvement Landing Gear Richard Jones, who was in the RAF for 26 years before joining Airbus three and a half years ago.
Richard said: “One of the difficulties for people leaving the Forces is being able to adjust to a civilian working environment. There is a ‘transformation process' that needs to take place especially if you have served in the Forces for a long period of time. It occurred to me that there was a great opportunity for Airbus to offer work experience to military personnel and at the same time the business would benefit from their expertise and ways of working.”
He added: “Apart from the obvious benefits, I see this as a way to give something back to the people who put themselves forward to protect us. It's good to be involved in a project like this.”
The Officers' Association advertised the opportunity to local service leavers, who are given time to help them adjust to their new civilian roles.
Business Development Manager at the Officers' Association Sophia Koniarska said: “Military work experience schemes are a fantastic opportunity for both service leavers and employers – they provide a great environment to develop the capabilities and knowledge of both the individual and organisation who participate.“
The initiative aligns to the Armed Forces Corporate Covenant, which Airbus Group (UK) is a supporter of. The aim is to run a second pilot later this year and if that is successful there is potential to roll it out as a formal programme across Airbus and eventually, possibly Airbus Group.