WHERE WILL OUR FUTURE LIFT ENGINEERS COME FROM? by Ish Buckingham
Leading awarding organisation, EAL (EMTA Awards Ltd), recently hosted the Skills for Economic Success round table in London. Attended by Conservative MP John Hayes, as well as employers from large industry players such as Airbus UK and CMB Plc, employer bodies and sector skills council representatives; the debate focused on how interested parties can work together to ensure the UK has a skills system, which is fit for purpose: to deliver a skilled workforce that will rebuild the British economy.
John Hillier, EAL Executive Consultant who chaired the meeting, used his opening remarks to highlight the challenges faced by those in and involved with vocational education. He stated that even before the current economic down turn, one of the most significant challenges to business success faced by the engineering, building services engineering and manufacturing sectors was a shortage of skilled people.
During the debate, there was broad agreement that the UK needs to rebalance its economy and its employment base, with engineering and manufacturing playing a much greater role. It was also agreed that sectors such as building services need to become less reliant on temporary labour and skilled people from outside the UK.
Apprenticeships were seen as important to the sector but equally important was upskilling the existing workforce.
Attendees discussed the difficulties of raising apprenticeship numbers especially amongst SMEs, despite Conservative plans set out by John Hayes to provide government subsidies to smaller companies for apprenticeship places.
Iain Macdonald, the ECA's Head of Education and Training commented: “I welcome the Conservatives’ aspiration to increase the number of apprentices by 100,000. However, I remain concerned that there may not be enough employers able to support this goal and that other factors may need to change, such as the shortening of an apprenticeship or the severing of the link between employment and apprenticeship - neither of which would be desirable outcomes.”
Richard Morley, Managing Director of CMB PLC added: “A lack of knowledge and skills will be a major barrier to achieving the economic rebalancing that is needed if businesses face the same shortage of qualified people once the economy picks up and employment levels begin to rise. To be successful as an advanced economy, we need to focus on both the technical and vocational frameworks inherent in the apprenticeship. In other words, we need the science and the knowledge to apply the skills.”
Keith Marshall, SummitSkills agreed, saying: “We must not repeat the mistakes we made in the last recession. Training and qualifications need to focus on what businesses need to take them out of this recession, not what they were doing as we went in; the green agenda will be particularly important.”
John Hayes, MP and Shadow Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further & Higher Education, who spoke at the event, said: “An advanced economy needs advanced skills and unless we grapple with this now, the UK will not be able to successfully compete on the global stage.”
John Hayes MP continued: “Pushing the skills agenda is not only important for the economy; it is vital for giving individuals a sense of purpose and creating a cohesive society. Britain needs to start valuing vocational skills as a way to harness ambition and to create a clear and progressive route for career advancement. In addition, we need to slash bureaucracy in the UK’s vocational training system to make it more sector-relevant, flexible and responsive to the very real needs of individuals and employers.”
Following the round table, Ann Watson, managing director, EAL commented: “EAL remains committed to providing the best training possible for the next generation of skilled British workers. As a sector-led awarding body, our expertise in engineering and building services makes us well placed to support John Hayes' commitment to a sector led approach for skills; a pledge we welcome.”
Ann Watson, managing director, EAL concluded: “We achieved exactly what we wanted; bringing together employers, employer bodies and politicians to kick start the discussion on how we can all work together to cultivate a skills system that will successfully deliver the skilled workforce to rebuild the British economy as we come out of one of the deepest recessions we have seen. We hope to keep the dialogue going and are aiming to host a follow-up event in early 2010, extending the discussion to provide clarity to some of the unanswered questions.”
In terms of the Lift Industry, I think that most people would agree that an 'Apprentice Indenture Trained Lift Engineer' is probably more of an asset to a Lift Company than someone who may have learnt simply through experience in the trade - it is still very difficult for the younger perspective lift engineer to enter our industry.
Back in the late 80's and very early 90's, it seemed much easier to obtain employment as an 'Apprentice Lift Engineer' with the new recruits even getting paid from the outset to attend college for them to complete their 'off the job learning'. This, at the start, was undoubtedly a better deal for the new employee compared to the employer, as the lift company wouldn't see any real benefit for their company until maybe half way through the 2nd year of the apprenticeship. So in essence, when the 1st year of training at college was completed and they had 6 months lift experience under their belt, then the employer would start to get a return on their investment. But, this was 18 months down the road and the employer could not be sure that the apprentice would stick at it!
Nowadays, it appears to be more common that lift employers will, if anything, employ the apprentice after the 1st years training at college has been completed; this reduces the cost to the company.
"This does make sense", says Rob Hughes of Training Centre Direct (TCD) Ltd, he continued "After all, it's all about attitude, if someone has gone out of their way to learn the foundations of engineering at college off their own back and also learnt something along the way about lifts, then they've got the basis on which to aspire and together with the backing from a good employer they can do the same from within the lift industry."
Shouldn't we be employing people with the right attitude and then develop their skills, rather than the other way around? Especially in a younger person with potentially 40 years at work still to do and hopefully with the original employer - wouldn't that be great! With all this in mind, it was refreshing to hear that Training Centre Direct were in the process of planning a series of short workshops to encourage new students to think about a career in the lift industry.
Whilst talking to Rob, he confirmed that he knew of several colleges who were already running the Performing Engineering Operations (PEO) NVQ level 2 course, which is fundamental for a young person to start their Lift Apprenticeship.
Typical subject areas can include;
Bench Fitting, making engineering tools such as Drill Drift , Engineers Square & Pipe Grips
Machining, using Lathes and Mills to produce Collerd Shafts, Tap Wrenches & Vee Blocks
Electrical Installation, covering simple one way lighting circuits to more complex ring main & 3 way lighting circuits, which can be housed in plastic mini trunking, galvanised cable trays, MICC & steel conduit tubing systems
Electronics, where for example, the student may design and produce a 12VDC power supply from component level to the finished product and often they'll make a short presentation of their finished work to the class, which could further indicate the beginnings of future management material!
Other subject areas may include sheet metal work, welding & using grinding machines to name but a few, that are all dependant on the individual college.
With all the above training conducted ‘off the job’ in a safe working environment together with instruction by college tutors, lectures & support staff, there’s no doubt that these calibre of young people are the ones we should be investing in and employing. Otherwise if we don’t, they will get alternative employment elsewhere and forever be lost as the potential future Lift Engineers of tomorrow!
With this in mind TCD have their own mission to try and divert these talented youngsters into our industry, right from the beginning. TCD’s strategy is to run a series of three short workshops. One at the students own college, one at the Thames Innovation Centre where TCD are based and the final one at PEW Electrical Distributors premises in River Road, Barking.
The final workshop being a 'walk around' where the students can see the full range of lift parts available and to also see how orders are taken in, sorted, packaged and dispatched to the end client.
Andrew Dennehy commented "PEW have full resources available here at our premises and would welcome keen students to gain an insight into our lift product supply business and to also be able to see how we operate from the other side of the counter." This seems to be a very good idea and a positive step in the right direction as it's not just one organisation, but many; each contributing to the encouragement of more interest from the next generation of Lift Engineers.
If this pilot scheme proves a success, then TCD are able and willing to roll this out in other colleges to get a greater number of new applicants. Whilst they already cater for the recruitment needs of the lift industry, they're now able to put an emphasis on the new 'Apprentice Lift Engineer' side of their business - thanks to all the other parties that are able to support them.
Whilst in Robs company it was inspirational to hear first hand how, with the right attitude, the backing of a good company, opportunities to learn and develop a clear vision ahead, can be instrumental in a candidates ability to perform a work task safely and in turn become a valuable asset.
We'll keep you posted on their progress.