“When you’re working on a plane, fix it to the degree you would if the most important person in your life is flying on it next.”
By the time Dylan Pereira was a few weeks into Red River College’s Aircraft Maintenance Engineer (AME) program, each of his instructors had given him a version of this piece of advice. The 20-year-old Winnipegger, who graduated his program this spring and is now working as an educational assistant at RRC’s Stevenson Campus, said the maxim stuck with him.
“It makes you think … it reminds you of the importance of the work you’re doing,” he said.
Pereira, a Sisler High School grad, is happy he’s tackling that work. It’s clear Pereira is in his element as he runs through the different systems – hydraulics, electrical, plumbing, turbines, steel – that come together in the complex machines he gets to “tool around with” each day. After studying the theories behind modern airplane systems in a classroom, Pereira and his fellow students got their hands dirty working on College-maintained aircraft at the Stevenson Campus hangar, which is perched on the western edge of the Winnipeg airport. Course work grew in complexity as Pereira added more skills to his tool kit, until his final projects had him assessing and repairing a full airplane – though not by himself.
“It’s more of a team kind of class,” says Pereira of the AME course. “When you work on a plane in the real world, you’re part of a crew, so the class is set up the same way.”
The small team – in Pereira’s class, about a dozen students – almost didn’t get Pereira as a crew member.
“I originally planned to study dentistry in high school,” he says. “It was my father’s idea. He wanted me to get into something that makes good money … both my parents didn’t want me to work too hard and only live paycheque to paycheque.”
Pereira had registered for upper-level science courses in Grade 12, but during the final year found he wasn’t “grabbed” by biology or chemistry – not to the level of enthusiasm he’d need to build a life around them. He spoke to his guidance counsellor and took an aptitude test; the result was a firm point away from dentistry, toward a list of programs that included Aircraft Maintenance Engineer.
Were his father and mother upset by the turn?
“My parents were happy that I knew what I wanted to do … I think they liked the sound of it – aircraft maintenance engineer sounds better than aircraft mechanic.“
When he arrived for classes in the fall, in addition to the directive to always fix planes with loved ones in mind, Pereira was offered a chance to put his mechanical skills through their paces at Skills Canada competitions.
“I introduced myself to (instructor) Dennis Turney, he does Skills every year… He asked me if I’d put in the time and train.”
That “time” worked out to getting to school at 6 a.m. every day, two hours before classes started, to work on the timed repairs and simulated problems that make up a Skills Canada competition.
The hours of practice paid off. Pereira won the Manitoba competition, then the national championships. He’s earned a place on the Canadian team travelling to Leipzig, Germany for the world championships set for early July 2013. Once there, Pereira will face off against 11 competitors from around the globe in the aircraft maintenance category as thousands of tradespeople from 53 nations pour into the city to put their training to the test.
Pereira, who’s looking forward to his first overseas trip, has a lot of praise for Skills Canada and the opportunities the organization has given him.
“They do a wonderful job helping students in trades better themselves. They take care of their competitors, they take care of all my travel arrangements – I know exactly where I have to be and when. It’s stressful, obviously, because you’re under a time limit. But it’s fun. I wouldn’t choose anything different. It’s gotten me extra training to give me a bit of an edge on the job market.”
That’s the next challenge Pereira is working on: finding a full-time apprenticeship to keep his career moving forward. He says that, while it doesn’t fall in their official duties, his instructors have been providing helpful tips about job openings in the market.
“If the instructors hear anything, they’ll tell you even though it’s not really their job,” Pereira said. “They’re good about staying in touch beyond school.”
Though Pereira came to RRC with some solid mechanical skills under his belt, he said his classmates’ skills spanned the spectrum from newbie to pro. He doesn’t think lack of experience is a bar to anyone wanting to register in AME, as long as they have an aptitude for fixing problems – and the kind of focus that comes from remembering that friends and family might be the next passengers to climb on board.
“The program will take anyone, from those who haven’t seen a wrench to someone who’s already into it, though obviously it helps to have prior experience. It can be for anyone.”
Profile by Matt TenBruggencate (Creative Communications, 2013)