Wayne Kwenda graduated with a first-class Honours degree in Aircraft Maintenance Engineering and is working in Product Support Engineering (Co-op), for General Electric Aviation Wales, one of the world’s top engineering firms.
Working in the industry
“My job involves working as part of a customer-focused global team. I work closely with the Life Cycle Engineering team to understand the field performance of our hardware or parts through part condition analysis. I also work closely with other engineering teams to respond to customer technical queries, with a focus on quality, safety, time on wing and cost.
“We overhaul and repair the GE90, GP7000, CFM 56 aircraft engines for over 90 global customers. One of my core responsibilities is to inspect document and report part conditions on incoming engines. I thoroughly enjoy my role and thrive on a hands-on approach.
"I am involved in new technology projects and have been responsible, as part of a wider team, to facilitate trials of a new repair procedure on the GE90 115B engine. The procedure seeks to realise savings in excess of $50m with a large revenue benefit to our customers through extended time on wing.
"I am also responsible for reducing shop visit costs, identifying and developing new repair or process opportunities to increase productivity. This can be achieved through being part of a wider team during Action Workouts. Action Workouts are, in simple terms, teams of engineers, designers and other stakeholders who come together over several weeks to identify such opportunities. I offer shop expertise gained from my role.
“As we are a global business we operate in more than 170 countries. I regularly work with colleagues from the USA, where GE is based, Turkey, Poland, India, China, Mexico and so on.”
The journey to USW
It’s been a long and, at times, quite scary road. Soon after arriving to the UK from Zimbabwe, at the age of 16, with no family or job, Wayne slept rough in London for some time.
“I came to the UK as a minor and was placed in care. I was placed in supported semi-independent living where I shared the house with another young person under Lewisham Looked After Children. I remember one time, I was sitting by a bus stop and the one thing I struggled with was ‘how the hell do I get on and pay on a bus?’ It was hard to understand how to use an Oyster Card. I know it sounds obvious that people get on buses, but I would sit and watch them.”
With support and encouragement, Wayne enrolled at a London college studying aerospace engineering, then aircraft maintenance engineering at a London university, but he dropped out after two years:
“I was young, I liked to go out and have a good time and in many ways those times took me off my goal. It was the one time after so many years that I really started to make good strong friends and develop relationships after moving to the UK. I took a year out and worked as a support worker looking after adults with learning difficulties. It was a very rewarding job but it wasn’t my career choice.”
After a year, Wayne re-applied and was recommended the University of South Wales by his college lecturers in London.
“I liked USW. It was a good fit. Their engagement was very good and they had good links with industry leaders, such as British Airways and GE Aviation. Two of my former lecturers worked as aircraft engineers at GE Aviation. One of whom helped me to get a work experience placement which eventually led to me getting a job there. Our lecturing team also included former British Airways engineers and engineers from the RAF. This made it possible to learn not only about the theories within aerospace, but to learn from first-hand industry experiences. I also enjoyed being part of the AME family – I met a lot of new people, some of whom will be lifelong friends.
“When I applied, with the help of my course leader, six lecturers gave up their time to give me mock job interviews in panels of three. Then they would give me feedback, looking at what I said and the sort of questions I could expect in preparation for job interviews.
“As a care leaver, I received support through my local authority and the University. The University has dedicated support staff that occasionally checked in with me to see how I was progressing, the amount of contact was up to me. USW also provided some financial support through the care leaver’s bursary. The best part, however, is that the University provides an informal forum to meet other young people from a similar background, this is particularly helpful when you are still new. Mentors can help you find your way around.
The right foundation
“When I started at GE I found out that the course I’d done was very aligned with the job I was doing, and there were a lot of things that were familiar to me, so it really gave me a good grounding for starting work. Inspection of hardware has been a great part of my role and through university I received hands-on training in inspection techniques, so this skill has proved useful within my role. In our business modules we discussed the impact of emotional intelligence and why it's important to collaborate within your teams. The skill to effectively communicate with others in and around my immediate teams gave me an edge and has been a great contributor to my success so far."
Studying at USW has also meant Wayne has fulfilled a dream he has had since he was five years old.
“My dad was an engineer and I always wanted to be like him but I also wanted to go above and beyond his achievements. He is a skilled electrical engineer and always let me play with his tools, fixing the house iron, kettle, toaster or even the cooker. I think the drive comes from him.”
"I enjoy working with some of the most innovative minds on some of the leading technologies, but even more than that, I enjoy the responsibility and opportunity to have a real impact on the business. My role supports the continued productivity of the GE90 and the projects I'm involved in seek to insure better time on wing, meaning better revenue for our customers."