The apprentice route into high value manufacturing

There were new calls this week for a cut in the numbers of young people shoehorned into UK universities*: Student & Young Professional looks at one firm which believes the apprenticeship route is the way into engineering

There aren’t enough university places. But we need engineers. Charles Maltby, technical and commercial director for Shearline, the advanced manufacturing company in Ely, Cambridgeshire, argues that an apprenticeship with a cutting-edge engineering company could be the way forward.

“The type of engineering that we are involved with is radically different to that of ten years ago, as lead times have shortened and so have project lifetimes,” he says.  

“The result is increased diversity and a range of challenges for our engineers that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.”

Apprentice scheme

More than a quarter of Shearline’s current employees have come through the company’s apprenticeship scheme, with recent apprentices mentoring new joiners. The scheme has run for more than 15 years, and provides on-the-job training, complemented by college-based teaching. Increasingly, the company has found that applicants have lacked mathematical skills – this is now part of their training.

The company feels that the growing complexity of its work would provide a stimulating environment for many young people who are currently persuaded to go straight into university.

High value, low volume manufacture

“A growth area for British engineering is high value, low volume manufacture and we have found a niche in design for manufacture. Based as we are in Greater Cambridgeshire we work closely with entrepreneurs and academics to help them turn their concepts into products that can be manufactured cost-effectively,” says Maltby.

“Early-stage prototyping and product development require considerable interaction between the client’s design team and the manufacturing systems developer. We are establishing a dedicated facility to provide the fast turnaround that customers need. This involves taking designs from paper through to prototype and short-run manufacture, and support scale-up, developing tools and systems as required.

“All this requires strong problem solving skills, as well as manual dexterity and an understanding of engineering concepts.

Shearline's aim

“Our aim is to make Shearline a recognised centre of excellence for design for manufacturing, supply chain solutions, and manufacturing systems within the UK, working to SC21 principles (see panel, right). Our people are essential for this. I hope that young people will see advanced manufacture as an exciting career choice that is making a real contribution to the British economy.”

Talent, opportunity, prosperity, election manifesto from the Association of Graduate Recruiters, published March 9.

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