Boss of GE UK hits the ‘shop floor’ to learn about apprentice value

Posted on 14 Mar 2013

Chief executive of GE UK, Mark Elborne, spent time with a final year apprentice from GE Healthcare at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital on Thursday where he learned about transferability of skills and the importance of role models.

General Electric’s most senior executive in the UK visited the London hospital and shadowed apprentice Chantelle Lazere as she serviced an X-ray machine, as part of National Apprentice Week.

Chantelle, whose father was an engineer, was given a wrench and a Haynes manual at the age of 11 and Mr Elborne caught up with her under the bonnet of a GE AMX-4, a diagnostic machine worth several hundred thousand pounds.

As a 16-year old in Hatfield, Herts, following school Chantelle struggled at first to find employment with long term prospects but was attracted to GE Healthcare, a large local employer. She was accepted on a technical apprenticeship and is now in her final year.

“She is a very impressive young lady,” Mr Elborne said. “Like Nantgawr where our aviation servicing business resides, Healthcare in Aylesbury is a dependable, long term servicing business which gives applicants career prospects. Chantelle is already capable of doing maintenance and engineering jobs to a high level on amazing products like x-ray, oncology and MRI scanners and other machines used in medical theatre.”

The apprenticeship term is three years after which she will graduate with an NVQ Level Two qualification. Soon she will train on digital as well as analogue diagnostic machines. “The skills these apprentices learn are highly transferable,” he added.

Perhaps the only CEO of a multinational company to shadow an apprentice during National Apprentice Week, Mr Elborne said he learned two main things from his experience.

“Firstly, there is a huge amount of opportunity today for young men and women to get into positions to learn highly transferable skills through an apprenticeship, to give them opportunities that they wouldn’t have imagined even two years ago. For GE, this strategy is important to provide a pipeline of workers to replace a significantly large proportion of our workforce who will, or may, retire in the next 10 to 15-years.”

“Secondly, how inspirational they can be, and how much we need to have people like Chantelle as role models to her peer group, for showing that young people can learn core engineering skills. These are very sophisticated and expensive machines, and Chantelle is learning electrical, mechanical and electronic assembly skills that could be applicable, for example, for maintaining a jet engine.”

GE, with over 18,000 employees in the UK and 40 factories, in areas covering healthcare, oil and gas components and aviation maintenance and overhaul, has nearly 500 apprentices in the UK at different stages.

While the focus of National Apprenticeship Week, and the current zeitgeist across government, is to encourage more and more young people to take apprenticeships, GE is not finding a lull in interest.

At GE Aviation in Cardiff this year, between 750-800 applicants applied for 25 positions.

“Many of these were already highly skilled people, and young people with high A level grades,” adds corporate communications director Mark Maguire. “It shows the number of skilled individuals keen to get onto apprentice programmes.”

Follow and @WRStirling for a longer interview with Mark Elborne about the meaning of national apprenticeship drive.