• Sigma Aerospace College has developed an online learning management system for training aviation engineers. (Sigma Aerospace College)
    Sigma Aerospace College has developed an online learning management system for training aviation engineers. (Sigma Aerospace College)

Tamworth-based Sigma Aerospace College has taken a different approach to tackling the crippling engineer shortage, developing an online training program that is designed to smooth the path for engineers to land their approvals.

With a lack of engineers plaguing both fixed-wing and rotary operators, and a training pathway seemingly clogged by confusing regulations and exams that lack relevancy, it is becoming clear that innovative methods of boosting engineer numbers are going to be an integral part of any solution.

That's the challenge Sigma has accepted. The college has recently won category training approvals, and now is in a position to offer training for Part 145, 147, Aeroskills, exclusion removal ... all the things needed to round-off the skills of new and developing aviation engineers.

Sigma's Training Manager Nick Booth says the company's Learning Management System (LMS) provides an alternative to the established pathways that are giving the GA industry so much grief.

"There are not many options out there to have training delivered cater to the needs of specific engineers," he says. "There’s really only one way to do things at the moment.

"What we’re concentrating on is specific training tailored to the needs of the specific engineer. If an engineer has a gap in their subject, then we will be assessing only to those gaps.

"It’s important to remember that the Part 66 licencing system can be quite complicated to understand if you’re not familiar with it, but there’s some intelligent design to it that makes sense. If it’s properly understood, then things start to fall into place."

Sigma Aerospace has been a Part 145 organisation for many years, but only recently developed the website, which is the key ingredient in their plan to start churning out engineers. Part of that offering is expertise in understanding what all the different qualifications actually mean and which ones will produce the best outcomes.

But no system is perfect, and Booth is happy to admit that their LMS is not yet ideal for training large groups.

"Whether you’ve got an exclusion you’re looking to remove or an additional category you want to obtain approval for, or if you want an additional qualification, as long as you’re obeying the regulatory bodies such as CASA or the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) then there’s quite a bit of flexibility to allow for tailored training," Booth explains.

"At the moment it is very difficult to help out someone that is ab initio, or just starting out, because unless they’re working in a hangar, we can’t really provide the practical training effectively to a large group of people. We are hoping that we’ll be able to set up to do that in the future.

"A larger training organisation in a hangar would have aircraft set aside specifically for students, but a younger organisation that is dealing primarily with engineers in the field is relying on practical submissions from the field."

A visit to the Sigma Aerospace College website www.sigma.edu.au will reveal a mass of information that has the potential to answer any question or solve any problem related to training that an engineer can raise. Despite that comprehensiveness, it looks relatively straight-forward to navigate.

"A student or engineer would go to the Sigma Aerospace website and see something that they need, say an E3 exclusion from a B1.1 licence," Booth said as he stepped Australian Flying through the process.

"Once they select it they would be directed through an application process online to apply for the exclusion to be removed. Usually at that stage we would have engaged with that person quite a bit and ensured that they’re selecting the right thing.

"Say they’ve selected a Diploma of Aeroskills, we’d go back to them and ask ‘are you sure you want a diploma, or do you actually want a licence?’ Often we find out confusion with terminology means they have selected the wrong thing.

"The student would go all the way to then end, enrol, and they we’d send them an e-mail with a login to the LMS. They’d see on their learning plan all the units of competency they need, study resources, all information they’re going to have to study for the Part 66 the modular exam.

"All the Manufacturing and Engineering Assessments (MEA) units, knowledge assessments and practical assessments are open to them.

"Once they can see their learning plan and what their learning resources are to enable them to answer the knowledge assessment questions, they can get in there and start doing them. We’ve concentrated on creating a program where there’s no waiting."

Unusually for training organisations offering this type of material, a candidate can go quite deep into the Sigma LMS before being asked to pay any fees. Booth says this is because Sigma needs to apply discounts to account for Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL).

"The student is encouraged to go straight to the onboarding units, and one of those is an RPL upload section, where they can submit evidence of prior training, any certificates or other evidence.

"Once they complete that, they’ll have an RPL report within days. Then a training administrator from Sigma will contact them and encourage them to pay fees at that point."

But, as anyone in the MRO industry understands, training comprises of a theoretical component supported by practical, hands-on experience that is assessed and ticked-off in the field. Whereas the LMS takes care of the theory, how does it account for the practical?

"The MEA units are divided into knowledge assessments and practical assessments, because you need both to get the full unit," Booth confirms. "Individual knowledge assessments are on the LMS, and the practical is separated and relies on submissions from the hangar.

"If someone is studying, for example, a remove and install gas turbines unit, then you will be asked at some point to submit evidence that you’ve removed an engine.

"The supervisors that would sign off on that task generally will be a LAME in a CASR Part 145 or a CAR 30 organisation. They would be legitimate supervisors whose details are laid out in a supervisors register. We have guideline documents regarding what is acceptable practical evidence."

Recently, CASA introduced a modular licence under CASR Part 66, but the concept is too new for the aviation industry to be able to assess its impact on the availability of engineers. Nick Booth is not confident that the modular licence is the correct path forward.

'Our system is a different approach to getting someone off the street, assessing their competency and MEA unit knowledge through a CASA Part 66 modular exam where they have to achieve a percentage of a multiple-choice exam.

"We don’t think that will work, so we have separate knowledge assessments for MEA theory."

Theory training is proving one of the largest roadblocks to increasing engineer numbers. Often candidates are lured into the Certificate IV courses on offer around the country, believing they will lead to a licence. Too often potential engineers throw up their spanners and find a new career when they find out they effectively need to start again.

Sigma Aerospace College acknowledges that, and provides counseling on the right study method to lead to the desired outcome. It's important, Booth says, that candidates feel that they are not own their own when it comes to navigating the labyrinth of engineer training options and terminology.

"We’re very approachable, so you can talk to a trainer; you can ring someone, submit inquiries through the LMS or e-mail direct," he says.

With the training authorities and regulators seemingly reluctant to unravel the tangle of regulation surrounding study and training, it is innovative solutions backed by sound knowledge and understanding of the system that have the potential to have a positive impact on engineer numbers.

Sigma's solution is not a pancea; most of the GA industry agree there is no silver bullet. However, it does have the potential to encourage rather than discourage upskilling and new entries, which it appears is something the current ASQA and CASA pipelines don't do.

comments powered by Disqus