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Engineered for success

Between 20–30 per cent of all UK engineers are employed in FM, but the UK faces an engineering skills shortage. Sara Searle, Head of HR & Payroll and Julie Connell HR Generalist at Liebherr, explain how a long running National Apprentice Scheme is helping to address the skills shortfall

Sean Maughan is the living embodiment of an apprenticeship success story. Now 27 years old, Maughan was 18 when he joined Liebherr-Great Britain as a Workshop Apprentice, having first completed his Level 1 and Level 2 Diploma in Motor Vehicles. During the apprenticeship, Maughan was lucky enough to be involved in the build of three high-rise material handling machines for metals recycling and ports customers in Southampton, Kent and Barking. He also travelled to Rathcoole to assist Leibherr Ireland for a week and visited the Liebherr Ehingen factory for three weeks as part of the apprenticeship exchange programme. Post-graduation, he was offered a role as a Workshop Engineer. Eighteen months later, in 2017, his line manager asked if he’d be interested in being a Supervisor. Maughan initially had his doubts that he was ready to manage others and was rather daunted at the prospect. His manager sensibly suggested he do a six-week trial – needless to say, he aced the trial.

Historically, the Liebherr National Apprentice Scheme would take on eight to 10 apprentices annually though this year that number dropped to five. This was nothing to do with the onset of COVID-19 however, it was down to both the lack of candidates applying and the suitability of those that did. The HR department just didn’t feel that many of the wannabe apprentices had the skills or understanding the job demanded and were vital for the ‘academic’ element of the apprenticeship when they spend time at college. More than this though, candidates lacked a real passion for engineering – be that just tinkering with their own bike or car in their spare time. Exam results are not the be-all and end-all for Liebherr – they look for a brilliant attitude and an ability to practically apply themselves to the task in hand.

The struggle to recruit good engineering people is not new and is widely acknowledged to be an industry-wide issue. There is a huge number of competing companies all trying to recruit from the same small pool of talent and engineers are known to move around for even minor salary increases. This is exactly why Liebherr-Great Britain created their own scheme so that they could nurture talent and ‘grow their own’ engineers according to the skills their business demanded.

It’s not just engineering apprentices that Liebherr looks for – business apprentices are recruited on alternate years. Business apprentices generally work on a six-month rotation throughout the business and study via an online college course to achieve their NVQ Level 4 in Business Administration.

Liebherr would ordinarily set up shop at Careers Fairs ready to promote the opportunities on offer but due to the pandemic, only managed to squeeze in one this year. It has always looked to build bridges directly with local schools and colleges and until recently, would tour institutions to mentor students and practise interview techniques. Liebherr-Great Britain also regularly takes on work experience students (generally aged 16 or 17) for a one to two-week period and these often serve as a good ‘door opening’ exercise. The Liebherr brand is undoubtedly their USP when it comes to recruitment and the fact that it’s a family-owned company with family values means it’s far from usual for the team to be celebrating 10, 20 and 30 year work anniversaries – many of whom started out as apprentices themselves.

Liebherr passionately believes that the government could do more to promote engineering and its invaluable role in the modern world in the National Curriculum, especially given the multitude of jobs consistently on offer in the industry. The company has also found that certain vocational courses at college are becoming scarcer and this has certainly been the case for recent Paintshop Apprentices. Liebherr also cite the lack of funding available for apprenticeships for the over-21’s as an area that needs to be urgently addressed by the government. In short, the end to end supply chain of apprentices needs to be fine-tuned by a working party of government, educational institutions and businesses.

Matthew arrived at Liebherr HQ directly after completing his A-levels in Engineering and Maths at a local sixth form college. It was, in fact, the college who had pointed him in the right direction for finding the apprenticeship. Matthew is now in the final year of the scheme as a Crawler Crane Engineer and as well as completing his Level 2 and Level 3 NVQ in Plant Maintenance, has enjoyed travel to Liverpool, Teeside and Sheerness as well as extended periods working at the Dublin Docks. There have also been trips to the Liebherr factory in Austria where the cranes are built. It was during one of his Austrian trips that he was fortunate enough to attend a course in hydraulics put on by Bosch Rexroth (who make the pumps for the cranes). Matthew is currently talking to the company about opportunities once he has completed his apprenticeship. He loves “the variation of my job and knowing that every week will throw up something new.”

Ed is one of Liebherr’s freshest faces having joined in September of this year. Following his A-levels, Ed originally embarked on a university degree in Mechanical Engineering but fairly soon into his studies, concluded that the three-year course was not going to help him get where he wanted. He successfully applied for the Mobile Cranes and Harbour Cranes position but took up the former offer as, in his own words, “You get a lot less wet!” Ed has already completed his first three-week stint at Stafford College and his four years of study will ultimately lead to a Level 4 Diploma in Mechanical Engineering.

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