Merson Group are embarking on a journey to create a pathway into industry for young people. At the same time, we are safeguarding the future of our company’s standing within the Signage and Rainscreen Cladding sectors.
Like many other manufacturing companies, we have a highly-skilled, experienced but ageing workforce. With a shortfall of availability of these skills and experience, there is a risk that in a few years we will not have the resource to cope with demand.
Looking at this challenge during an especially busy period last year, we tried to hire both permanent and agency staff but were unsuccessful due to the lack of skill set available within the market.
Taking both those factors into account, the creation of a Modern Apprenticeship Programme within our organisation is now underway. This will help stabilise and future proof our business but will also create a pathway for local young people into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) jobs, which were once highly sought after but in more recent years, have fallen out of favour and created the shortfall in expertise that we see today.
Why are Modern Apprentice Schemes available?
Modern Apprenticeships are learning programmes created by the government to help reduce the skills gap among young people in what was traditionally supported by heavy industry. These schemes have been identified to increase the number of young people going into STEM roles. While Manufacturing continues to move towards Industry 4.0, (the 4th Industrial Revolution), the requirement for these key hands-on skills offered through Modern Apprenticeships is actually increasing not decreasing.
Scotland was for a very long time at the vanguard of the industrial world and was in many areas seen as the best. Whether that was in heavy engineering industries such as shipbuilding, or technology industries such as Electronics Manufacturing, Scotland competed with the best in the world. In Electronics Development and Manufacturing Scotland was second only to Silicon Valley in California, hence the term Silicon Glen. Those days are now gone and while there are still some remnants, they have almost become cottage industries. With the decline in those industries so came the decline in the skills and the schemes to develop those skills.
Fortunately, this has been recognised, before it was too late, and the Modern Apprentice Scheme was born.
What Is It?
A Modern Apprentice Scheme is a fully-funded 4-year scheme that partners learning institutes with local companies to create, develop and deliver a hybrid programme that combines class based theory and practical learning alongside on-the-job real-life experience within a working environment. Regular catch-ups between those delivering the taught element and those responsible for providing the real-life work, ensure it is relevant, pushes and develops the key skills thus ensuring that the programmes provide the workers that industry needs to not only survive but thrive in the modern world.
So why would a young person apply?
The two main aspects or reasons for applying are quite simple. Firstly, the young person will come out at the end with an Industry recognised qualification, i.e, they will have served their time. Secondly, they will be paid for doing it. Not everyone has the academic ability or desire to go to university. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a future; far from it. This scheme creates their pathway and gives them a future that will offer well paid rewarding work and allow them to be a contributing member of society.
How do People secure an Apprenticeship?
Like with any job, young people will need to apply for the position and then go through a recruitment process. This can be through online job sites, through the local college website or even directly with a local company. Some will already be on a college course and be identified by the college as a suitable candidate for an Apprentice Scheme or some will apply directly to the employer via a job advert.
The candidates will then go through a screening and interview process to determine their suitability and also to give them assurances that the apprenticeship and the company are right for them.
As with any development or training programme, it is important that a plan is created that not only identifies the areas of skill and experience that are needed but provides a feedback process that ensures that any risks are identified and dealt with. The plan along with the feedback is an integral part of the Apprenticeship and ensures continuing professional development of the apprentice so that at the end of the programme not only do they obtain their qualification but are able to perform a highly-skilled role that supports the business and its requirements.
Continuing professional development is not just for apprentices but is an absolute core requirement for the success of a programme. If a company wants to grow and develop then the number one area that facilitates or enables this is in the development of the people within the organisation. Apprenticeships are key to this as it shows not only that the company want to invest in the future but that they provide an opportunity for an individual to grow.
As industry (especially manufacturing) moves from the Third Industrial Revolution into the Fourth, (known as Industry 4.0), the need for all companies to be successful requires investment to help them keep up with their competitors.
Through enablers, such as IoT and Digital Twins, modern manufacturing companies can streamline their business to become more efficient, and failure to do so can leave them left behind. Modern apprenticeships, while in some cases still focus on traditional skills, such as Welding and Fabrication, can still be part of the Industry 4.0 Revolution by the use of Digital Twins for training and skills development. Things such as IoT and intelligent sensors and associated software can be utilised to provide predictive data on things such as tool wear but also be utilised to provide a safer working environment. So, while some may say that Welding and Fabrication have no tie-in to Industry 4.0 that is not the case.
Merson like other companies are not only investing in our future workforce but in new technologies such as Digital Twins, VR, AR and predictive data that will allow us to compete, grow and continue to offer a future for the local community including attracting young people to our apprenticeship scheme. The more we invest in Industry 4.0 technologies and systems, the greater our requirement for a skilled workforce and therefore our requirement for an ongoing Apprentice programme is of increasing importance. Most people would think they are mutually exclusive but actually, it is quite the opposite. Recognising this is the first step to ensuring that our workforce is able to meet the demands of an ever-increasing technology-based workplace whilst still providing a pathway for young people that may not want to go to university and would prefer to tread a more traditional path.
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