Apprenticeships and lifelong learning are the recipe for a secure future say AMRC trainers

Tomorrows advanced engineers can look forward to exciting opportunities, as long as they are prepared to keep learning, according to two trainers who left manufacturing to give something back to industry and help UK firms close the skills gap.

“Being an apprentice may involve two or three years of pain, but its for a big gain,” says Neil Bloomer, a machining specialist at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeings Training Centre (AMRC Training Centre).

“You can go anywhere,” adds Neil, , who worked for companies supplying diverse sectors, including, textiles processing, medical implants, glass making and the automotive firms, before joining the Nuclear AMRC and then moving to the Training Centre.

“I think that as far as the apprentices here are concerned, if they are prepared to learn, the world is their oyster.”

David Smith, an electrical and electronic engineering specialist, agrees.

“If they work hard and plan what they want to do with their careers, they can achieve their goals,” says David, who worked for Outokumpu and Tata Steels specialty steels operations in Rotherham, before joining the Training Centre.

Both men faced redundancy during their careers – an experience that has left them convinced of the importance of continuing to learn, gain skills and stay at the forefront of what is happening in manufacturing.

“If you have got the skills, you are in a safer position with your employer and, if they do hit problems, you are also much more employable elsewhere,” says David.

Neil and David both swapped careers in manufacturing to train the next generation of advanced apprentices because they wanted to give something back to industry and help close the UK engineering skills gap.

“Its about giving something back to young people,” says David

“Ive had 30 years in engineering and by the time I finish I will have given something back to the kids,” adds Neil.

Both men started out in engineering at a time when there were plenty of apprenticeships,but saw numbers fall, before the recent resurgence which led to the establishment of the AMRC Training Centre.

“When I first started there were a lot of apprentices, but there is now a lack of engineering skills in this country and companies are struggling to find the right calibre of people – thats why a place like this is of paramount importance,” says David.

“There had been such a decline from when we were apprentices, but now government and industry realise that apprentices are the way forward.”

David saw early on in his career that there would be major technological changes in the future.

He resolved to do everything he could to keep abreast of those changes, studying for a raft of qualifications in his spare time, gaining a City and Guilds Licentiateship, a degree in Mathematics and Electrical Engineering before becoming a Chartered Engineer.

“I realised I couldnt stand still academically, so I became a Life Long Learner,” he says.

The AMRC Training Centre is designed to make that process easier, offering people the chance to go beyond advanced apprenticeships to undergraduate and post graduate degrees, professional qualifications and continuing professional development.

Whats more they can do that with the backing of their employers and without building up debts.

Both David and Neil were drawn into training while in industry.

For David, it began when he was sent him on a course so that he could pass on his high level expertise with business operations and customer relations systems to colleagues and when he started helping apprentices and graduate trainees as part of his job.

“Ive always been driven to be the best I could at anything, I decided to get professional qualifications. I was enjoying teaching, so I thought ‘Why not do it full time?”

Neil got his first taste of being a trainer when his then employer moved hi-tech machines from one plant to another and asked him to teach the workers there how to use them.

“I enjoyed teaching my workmates and I thought, if I can do that, surely I can train young people. It was something different at a time when I needed another challenge,” he says.

Now, both men and their colleagues at the AMRC Training Centre are rising to the challenge of training the next generation of people to keep Britain and the Sheffield City Region at the forefront of Advanced Manufacturing.

Apprenticeships and lifelong learning are the recipe for a secure future say AMRC trainers

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