QMT Features: July 2011
Apprenticeships for skills
Plugging the looming skills gap with a structured approach to apprenticeship training is the way forward for companies such as Hexagon UK, with the help of the EEF.  By Brendan Coyne, QMT

Developing vocational engineering skills is the big challenge facing manufacturing companies as older employees hit retirement age over the next ten years or so. All manufacturing sectors are affected, from aerospace to automotive and mechanical engineering in general. Industry in the UK has to train up a new generation  by encouraging the youth to become interested in manufacturing as a career path, one that will be interesting, well paid and with plenty of job opportunities.

Government and industry associations are now getting to grips with what needs to be done and are putting a lot of effort into promoting manufacturing and engineering into schools and colleges.  For example, in June, Skills Minister, John Hayes MP launched a new business-backed association and benefit card designed specifically for apprentices. The new Apprentice Society and Apprentice Card is backed by the National Union of Students (NUS), Robert Halfon MP and leading providers of apprenticeships.

The launch is part of a major campaign to raise awareness of modern apprenticeships, highlighting the benefits to industry and commerce and to give greater status to skills-based training. The launch follows the commitment by the Government to spend half a billion pounds to boost the number of apprenticeships in the UK. Another industry initiative is that of the Imagineering scheme, backed by the MTA and designed to introduce 8-16 year olds to the world of engineering and technology through fun, hands-on activities.

One of the keys to a successful implementation of a vocational training scheme is having a structured pathway. Individual companies who wish to recruit trainees can now turn to organisations such the EEF, the manufacturers' organisation, for assistance in developing courses for apprentices.

EEF Apprentices and Skills Services are an engineering training provider, part of the  EEF,which offers a range of industry standard qualifications including bespoke training programmes built round an individual manufacturer’s needs. One such company that turned to the EEF for assistance is Hexagon UK in Telford. Malcolm Hindle, national operations manager for apprentices and skills explains, “We are working with Hexagon UK to help them recruit and train apprentice over the next three to four years. Hexagon UK contacted the EEF because the company had not taken on apprentices before and were looking for assistance  in recruiting and programme development for training. EEF are mentoring, advising, supporting, assessing on a number of things and helping the company to develop training programmes both when the learner is on-site, advising the company what they should be doing,  and also going out and supporting where appropriate. 

We work to nationally recognised qualifications. So to start with,   the apprentices will be working to an Advanced Apprenticeship programme with a view to going on to a higher apprenticeship and then, possibly, on to degree level,“  adds Malcolm Hindle. “This will be done through national qualifications within the engineering sector, such as NVQs certified by SEMTA or EAL,  or, in terms of technical certificates,  we work with Edexcel or BTechs.“ 

David Brown, general manager for Hexagon UK takes up the story, “This is new for us. This is the first time that we’ve had an event like this.”  David was speaking, surrounded by a group of  attentive young people from local schools who had been selected to come and visit Hexagon modern hi-tech facility in Telford for  as potential apprentices. Ten students attended the open evening, some accompanied by parents.   David explains, “At the beginning of last year, we set out to look at the next generation of  of engineers coming through and specifically try to draw them into the metrology side, where technology is developing rapidly. A lot of the people inside the industry move around and the number of new people coming in, the next generation, is worryingly low.  I’ve acknowledged this and started a programme of getting in some work experience placements from the local school last year.  Now we are looking to get two apprentices a year on board. I’m working closely with the EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation,  as they can provide the fundamental building blocks for the youngsters coming in straight out of school.

We need support and we need some sort of infrastructure behind it. The EEF can provide that.  They run existing programmes for apprentices, which tie in with the local colleges with NVQs and BTechs. 

What I was really conscious of, what I wanted to do, was to make sure that the young generations coming through do follow some of that structure  because   I need somebody to support some other basic engineering principles before the trainees can really engage in metrology. So the two have to come together.” David explains that the length of each course will depend on the individual - what academic level they could   achieve, what their particular skill and talent were and so forth.  “For example, after a couple of years, the trainee may realise that their talent is in electronics or in software and that can be drawn out by us and the EEF”

This project is a Hexagon initiative, not an industry one, says David.  Globally, the Hexagon Group takes on apprentices with programmes which vary in structure and content from country to country.  David Brown’s point of reference has been Hexagon Metrology in Switzerland who are already running an apprenticeship programme and are achieving success with it.  David Brown comments that, “It’s not short term thinking.  We’ve just finished our mid term financial planning right the way through to 2014, so we have a clear understanding of what resources we need in order to achieve our goals. The apprenticeships scheme isn’t tied in with that.  The apprenticeship scheme is a slower process and we accept that.  It’s an investment for the future, over 3 or 4 years, when they become real for us.” l  

email: david.brown@hexagonmetrology.com
email: mhindle@eef.org.uk
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