Training for the future

Progress report on the Lloyds Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre at MTC

In November last year Lloyds Bank announced that it would provide £1m per year over five years to support the delivery of apprenticeship teaching at the Manufacturing Technology Centre’s new Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre. The centre is also the grateful recipient of £36m from government and industry.

Mid-way through 2014 and building work is underway – at time of writing contractors were busy stabilising the ground around MTC which was reclaimed from marshland. The building will be ready for action in June next year with an official opening ceremony in September, coinciding with Lloyds’ 250th anniversary celebrations – and the start of the academic year.

But in addition to this physical development, strategic and operational development is also progressing.

John Male, currently head of learning and organisational development at engineering and construction form Costain was recently appointed MD of the forward looking centre which aims to train young people to be confident in exploiting tomorrow’s industrial technologies.

Why is Lloyds sponsoring the Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre at MTC?

“At the same time as Clive [Hickman]’s plans for the training centre at MTC were unfolding, Lloyds’ support for manufacturing was beginning to build,” recalls David Richardson, regional MD corporate markets at the bank which traces its history of almost 250 years back to a manufacturing finance agreement.

“We talked a lot about his plans for MTC and for the training centre and in June 2012 Lloyds announced its £1bn a year lending fund for manufacturers.

“But then we got to thinking about the deeper proposition for manufacturing in the UK and asked ourselves what more we could do to help the sector than just lending it money,” continues Mr Richardson.

“We started looking at the real significance of the skills agenda and it all came together. We realised that sponsoring this centre was a way that we could become a real partner to industry – not just a source of lending.”

Lloyds support of the Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre sits neatly with its other commitments to economic rebalancing in the UK.

Three years ago it launched its Helping Britain Prosper plan which made 26 commitments across seven different areas – including skills and education – to helping British industry be more competitive.

60 young apprentices are also already signed up to start a preliminary year of college training in September this year. In September 2015 they will be the first cohort to embark on their second year of hands-on education in a facility housing some of the most advanced manufacturing technologies in the world.

“It is key that we train apprentices to use the high value equipment and process that we are developing in the High Value Manufacturing Catapult Centres,” says MTC CEO Clive Hickman as we look out over mound of mud that will one day be a hub for industrial learning.

“If we don’t do this then however, many apprentices we recruit, in five years’ time we will still have skills gaps,” he explains. “There are no many apprenticeship programmes today that would give in-depth knowledge about automation technologies or processes for instance. There are none that would teach an apprentice how to use a twenty kilowatt fibre laser. If we want these to become the technologies that give competitive edge to the UK manufacturing sector in the future we must train people to use them today.

But Hickman, and other stakeholders in the Advanced Manufacturing Training centre know that for real economic and competitive benefits, these futuristic skills sets must not belong to an elite engineering class employed by large, resource-rich companies.

SME’s must be world class too.

For this reason, the Lloyds Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre will only support apprenticeship placements with SME firms.

David Richardson, regional MD corporate markets at Lloyds bank who was a driving force behind committing the bank to sponsorship of the new training centre comments “We didn’t want to invest in training people who would then go on to work for large firms who could afford to train those individuals themselves. We had SMEs in mind.”

Hickman expands on this focus. “Many SMEs can only afford to take on one apprentice over four years. It costs around £20,000 a year to train an apprentice and there is around a 25% chance that the apprentice will drop out in the first two years.”

These statistics have an obvious impact on employer readiness to invest in apprenticeships says Hickman. “But if we can remove the investment stress and uncertainty for the first two years, then the value proposition for an SME is much easier to justify,” he continues.

To achieve this, MTC takes on all responsibility for the first two years of apprentice development. “This means we take responsibility for the two years when an apprentice is of least value to an employer,” says Hickman. “From the third year of training apprentices can really start applying the skills and knowledge they have gathered. So SMEs who take on our apprentices will get someone who is adding value from day one and will only have to support their development financially for two years.”

Unsurprisingly, Hickman says a number of local manufacturing SMEs have already exhibited interest in taking on MTC trained apprentices in 2016.

Other training

But MTC’s training centre will not act as a benchmark for advanced and higher apprenticeship delivery.

There are also plans to provide upskilling for engineering graduates who need a little industrial fine tuning on top of their degree qualifications.

Then there’s the intention to nurture industrial design graduates who are having a tough time finding jobs in industry. “We’ll help these graduates to seed products and spin out design companies,” says Hickman. Unlike the case for engineering graduates, there is a surplus of industrial design graduates in the UK according to Hickman and with supply outstripping demand, many of them find it hard to find valuable roles. MTC’s training centre will ensure their talents are not lost to industry.

And finally there’s the potential to inspire and educate teachers at the training centre through an IMechE teacher placement scheme. “This gives teachers the chance to go on a placement with companies during the summer holidays,” explains Hickman.

“It’s about demonstrating to teachers what engineering is all about so that they go away with an inspired attitude about the industry and can communicate that to their students.”

Qualifications that inspire confidence

To ensure that all training delivered at the new centre, particularly the apprenticeships, are understood and valued by industry, MTC is working with engineering awarding bodies like EAL to create new qualification frameworks for new engineering skills.

Pushing toward a higher social value for engineering too, there is an agreement being mooted with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers to ensure that MTC apprentices receive incorporated status with the professional body.

All this ground work has convinced government that the Lloyds Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre is worthy of being held up as a beacon for industrial education. Consequently Business Secretary Vince Cable named the centre as one of the first of a new wave of National Colleges. He described these bodies as “specialised institutions, acting as national centres of excellence in key areas of the economy”.

Dr Cable continued, “They will be employer focused, and combine academic knowledge with practical application. We have already announced funding for two of these institutions. One is associated with High Speed 2…The other is the training facility – receiving £18 of public investment – that’s destined for the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry”.

For readers familiar with University Technical Colleges which might be described in almost exactly the same terms that Cable used – employer led, a combination of academic and vocational excellence – do not fear that government is reinventing the wheel.

For the 14-19 year old students of UTCs, the National Colleges offer a natural progression route – they are a much needed attempt to reform and improve the higher and further education systems in the UK. Moving away from a unitary approach and toward a dual one in which National Colleges will be as highly valued as universities.

Hickman is excited about this development and ambitious for the status of students who will graduate from his institution. “I want it to mean something big when people say they are a graduate of this training centre. I want students from this facility to be considered the best in the world at what they do.”