As your skilled workforce approaches retirement, what plans do you have in place to maintain the skills required for continuity and to embrace the future? Mark Water Pumps Ltd, a market leading UK manufacturing company recognised a future skills gap and explains why starting an apprenticeships scheme was the right thing to do and the benefits it is seeing.

Why an apprenticeship?

Two years ago, David Lewis, Plant Manager at Mark Water Pumps Ltd (MWPL) observed that while the company had an excellent retention of highly experienced and skilled staff, many had served the company for between 20 and 40 years. With some employees therefore approaching retirement it was recognised as essential for continuity of the business to bring in new people, training them in the technical skills needed to operate effectively.

Many skilled engineers and managers will remember the four-year apprenticeships. Generally dropped in the early 1990s, an apprentice worked alongside experienced and qualified colleagues, while also undergoing structured development of relevant skills and attending college to complete a relevant industry-recognised qualification.

Measuring new to the range castings from Mark Water Pumps Limited new high-pressure die

Measuring new to the range castings from Mark Water Pumps Limited new high-pressure die

Funding support

Starting such a venture does have an element of risk and can be a daunting prospect when taking on a young inexperienced person, fully training them at the company’s expense and providing a salary. Working with a college specialising in providing engineering qualifications potentially reduces this risk, so substantially increasing the chance of success in finding a suitable candidate seeking a career.

Initial investigations however were tough, as there was no obvious starting point for this process and support was difficult to find. However, MWPL persisted and continued to approach several colleges to discuss the opportunity for apprenticeships, seeking help in identifying suitable candidates, training support costs and to provide relevant academic courses.

Grwp Llandrillo Menai (previously known as Cymru Menai Technical College) did respond positively and six months after starting this process, MWPL, in partnership with the college and backed by funding from the Welsh government, employed an apprentice, soon followed by a second. 100% of the first year and 50% of the second-year costs are funded by the Welsh government education system through Grwp Llandrillo Menai.

David Lewis summarises: “Apprenticeships are a fantastic opportunity for people wanting a career in engineering and provides both us and the employee with stability in an uncertain market. Establishing a scheme with local education support provides MWPL with the required skills, not only to assure continuity of the business, it allows us to plan for future growth with reduced investment risk. There is also a benefit to the local area as the apprentice is likely to settle and establish a home.”

More about Apprenticeships

The duration of the apprenticeships is four years. The initial twelve months are spent working in each business area to introduce the apprentice to the business. This provides a period of assessment for both parties to establish if the apprentice has the right aptitude and engagement for such a role. The areas covered include all of the engineering disciplines; production, maintenance, R&D, quality and new product design. From this, the employer quickly gains a clear view on how best to tailor ongoing training to suit their needs, while the apprentice gains a thorough understanding of all aspects of the business and how each function interacts and impacts on the others.

Calibration of measuring instruments in Mark Water Pumps Limited calibration laboratory

Calibration of measuring instruments in Mark Water Pumps Limited calibration laboratory

After this period, the apprentice is provided with structured training for the remainder of the apprenticeship, developing the relevant skills. One full day a week is spent at college completing an ordinary and then on to a higher national certificate (ONC and HNC) in engineering as an industry-recognised accreditation.