Two local men have jumped aboard what is quickly becoming one of the fastest growing industries in the Shoalhaven, gaining apprenticeships in the aviation industry with Lockheed Martin Sikorsky.
Matthew Lawrence and Sean McAleer are the first two local apprentices the company has hired.
Both are at vastly different stages of their lives but both have a passion for aviation.
Matthew is just 18, fresh out of school at St John’s Catholic High School, while Sean, 26, has started as a mature age apprentice.
Their four-year apprenticeships will see them become aviation maintenance engineers, Matthew specialising in avionics and Sean in mechanics.
They are both being given the opportunity to work on the Royal Australian Navy’s latest helicopter, the MH-60R Romeo.
Getting a taste of the industry first hand on work experience inspired the pair to pursue a career path in aviation.
“I have always had an interested in aviation,” Matthew said.
“In year 10 when I started seriously looking at what I would do after school and I came across this.
“I did work experience in 2016 and I knew it was definitely what I wanted to do.
“There is so much to learn working on the Romeo with all the technology but it is so interesting.”
Sean is excited about his future.
From an early age, he was interested in design and technology, two skills he brings to this apprenticeship.
“After school, it took me some time to settle upon what I wanted to do,” he said.
“I had a few friends in the navy who work in aviation. It looked good. The navy wasn’t for me so I found a way to do it in civilian life.
“I tried work experience at Sikorsky Australia and from the moment I walked in, I was hooked on working on aircraft maintenance.”
As well as on the job training Mathew and Sean are also completing an Aeroskills course through Aerospace Training Services (ATS), who for 22 years have been the only local provider of aircraft maintenance training in the Shoalhaven and Illawarra.
“This is a great opportunity,” Matthew said “I definitely want to stay with aviation and hopefully after I complete my apprenticeship I can stay with Sikorsky and see where it takes me.”
Sean said it has been a huge change.
“Previously I was stuck in a rut. I was working in retail and I wasn’t finding it fulfilling,” he said.
“I wanted more. My parents encouraged me to branch out and when I did work experience here and it just opened up my eyes to a new world.”
As for his age, he says it’s all about challenging himself.
“Sure we are at different stages of our lives but that can also be an advantage,” he said.
“I want to prove you don't just have to be young to be in this industry but it will also push me to keep up with the younger guys.”
Lockheed Martin Australia chief executive Vince Di Pietro, who was one of the men instrumental in bringing the Romeos to Australia when he was the commanding officer of the RAN Fleet Air Arm said it was an exciting time.
“It’s great for us as a company to take on our first two apprentices at Nowra,” he said “and it’s great they are two local chaps.
“I reckon we have really lucked in with these two. They are both great young guys who are passionate about aviation.
“They are seeing things from two very different perspectives and it's exciting and Lockheed Martin Sikorsky sees it the same way.
“This is part of a rolling program we have started in Nowra and we want to keep it continuing, introducing apprentices every two years.
“It is exciting to be able to introduce young folks into the fold and hopefully be part of their story on the path of success as maintenance engineers.”
Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company currently provides through life support services for the navy’s 24 Romeos and currently has 120 personnel at its purpose built maintenance base adjacent to HMAS Albatross.
It is looking to further expand its local links by hiring an additional two trainees.