As a teenager, Brandon Skeen thought a career as a helicopter engineer was not open to him. But thanks to a Yalari Scholarship, sponsored by Babcock, and ongoing training with the company’s Offshore Aviation operations on Barrow Island, the apprentice engineer is turning ambition into reality.
At the age of 14, Brandon left his family in Halls Creek to study at Scotch College in Adelaide. He was sponsored by Babcock under the Yalari Program, which offers secondary education scholarships to Indigenous children from regional and remote communities.
By the end of year 11, Brandon had set his sights on a career in engineering, studying STEM subjects – maths, physics and chemistry – to pave the way for entry to university.
But a meeting with John Boag, Babcock’s then CEO, opened his eyes to another opportunity.
“I didn’t know that you could do an apprenticeship to work on helicopters. I thought you had to have a degree. I knew it was a specialist role, but I didn’t know how accessible it was,” he says.
“I was always a ‘hands-on’ bloke. When the opportunity of a helicopter engineering apprenticeship came up I thought ‘Why not? I’ll just go for it!’.”
The meeting with John Boag had been arranged by the school. While Brandon knew he was a Yalari Scholar, he didn’t know Babcock was his sponsor and was supporting him behind the scenes.
“To me, Yalari means education but it also provides you with contacts throughout life,” says Brandon.
“If it weren’t for the Yalari program, I wouldn’t have discovered Babcock and the careers they have to offer.”
After graduating from school, Brandon embarked on a six year apprenticeship with Babcock which he is due to complete this year.
As part of a team supporting Babcock’s Offshore Aviation services, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Brandon says he’s learned valuable skills in a supportive environment.
“My teachers at Babcock are really good blokes. If they’re busy, they’ll always find time afterwards to explain what I need to know,” he says.
With a team of seven assigned to each roster – four mechanical licensed engineers, two avionics engineers and Brandon as an apprentice – teamwork is an important part of the job.
Brandon remembers one night when the team stayed up late to ensure an aircraft was serviceable. It remains a highlight of his career so far.
“We stayed up until 3am to change the fuel probes and the team all worked together,” he says.
“I’ll always remember that sense of achievement. You could feel the teamwork as we all worked towards the same goal.”
With a two-weeks on, two-weeks off roster, Brandon is based in Broome when he’s not working for Babcock on Barrow Island. While it’s a seven hour drive back to Halls Creek, he still feels connected to his Indigenous community back home.
“My friends and family think I’m doing a great job. They’re really interested in what I’m doing, asking ‘When are you finishing?’ and ‘Are you qualified yet?’” he says with a smile.
“I’m the only person I know who does this trade – I hope that my apprenticeship as a Babcock helicopter engineer inspires them to succeed.”
“I’d say to any young person that you can achieve your goals if you stay focused. Just keep working hard and up your skills. You’ll get there if you keep trying.”