Meet the engineer whose career in aircraft maintenance is soaring, thanks to the support of his manager and mentor
“There are no silly questions, only silly outcomes if you don’t ask for help with something you aren’t sure of.” So says Ian Rowlands, 57, who as Babcock maintenance supervisor at RAF Wittering in Peterborough is responsible for passing on his considerable knowledge of the inner workings of aircraft to the newer engineers in his charge.
One of his “informal mentees” is Mitch Gooding, a 27-year-old licensed aircraft engineer who is currently honing his own aviation skills on the Grob aircraft, which Babcock maintains there. While the firm deploys both formal and informal mentoring to help develop staff, the two colleagues describe their own close working relationship as “extremely beneficial on both sides”.
On the back of a childhood interest in flying machines, Mitch volunteered his services to Classic Wings, the long-established vintage aircraft leisure operator based at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, Cambridgeshire. Having gained valuable hands-on experience in the firm’s hangars, he joined Babcock as an aircraft handler in 2012. After a period of self-study, he was subsequently sponsored by the business to take his licensed aircraft engineer exams – a milestone he describes as “career-changing”.
Working alongside a team of Babcock engineers and technicians, as well as a number of RAF air crew, Mitch says Ian is “always pushing me in the right direction”. Collaboration and teamwork are, he says, a key part of the job: “Ian gave me confidence right from the early days to talk about any challenges and that’s been a real help as I’ve built up more knowledge.”
For Ian, the personal chemistry between the two also pays dividends. “Mitch and I get on well personally as well as professionally, and that always helps smooth things along.” Currently engaged in further study, this time in the techniques necessary to add gas-powered jets and helicopters to his skillset, Mitch will sit a further round of exams in October. “I love my job at Wittering,” he says, “both because of the variety of the work that crops up and because I’ve been lucky enough to have a great mentor.
“Enjoying a good working relationship with the boss means I can always ask if I’m not quite sure about something, and I like to think we learn from each other.”
Ian agrees. “Mitch is “like a sponge, always soaking up knowledge”, he says – and he’s also able to suggest new ways of doing things, a quality Ian describes as “invaluable in a small team. By discussing issues and finding solutions, all of us can expand our knowledge.”
Learning to grow
As a well-experienced hand, Ian offers the following advice to all budding aircraft engineers: “Work hard, play hard and accept any criticism as being well-meant.” While some young trainees dislike their shortcomings being pointed out, he believes that “constructive feedback should be used as a tool, something to help you improve as you continue on this fairly difficult professional pathway”.
Mitch, who hopes that by passing his next set of exams he will effectively future-proof his STEM career, says: “Every day is a learning opportunity.”
Says Ian: “I was never designated an official mentor to Mitch, but his drive and enthusiasm for aviation ensured that all technicians and supervisors were more than willing to pass on their knowledge and experiences. We were all mentors in our own little way.”