With research from the Institute of Engineering and Technology highlighting almost half of engineering businesses are experiencing difficulties in recruiting the right talent levels, it’s clear the ongoing skills shortage continues to affect the industry.
To mark National Apprenticeship Week, which this year is focusing on the theme of Skills for Life, production engineer, and recent apprentice at Norgren, Ben Briguglio, explains why apprentices are so critical to the future success of engineering.
In 2017, Ben Briguglio completed his engineering technician apprenticeship with Norgren, at its site in Fradley. Having a curiosity about how things are made, together with an interest in hands-on learning, he knew the traditional university path wasn’t for him.
“From an early age I’ve always been intrigued by the way things work. I’d regularly visit museums and cultural landmarks, such as the Thinktank in Birmingham where you could see both modern and historic engineering in action,” he comments.
“I think this interest has always meant I’m naturally inquisitive and so having the option to learn in such a practical environment, where I could physically pick up parts and discover how they work appealed to me and led me to my apprenticeship at Norgren.”
Throughout Mr Briguglio’s three-year apprenticeship with the business he’s been involved in several key projects where he’s made a tangible impact. Reflecting on his time as an apprentice at Norgren, he adds: “During my apprenticeship, I supported the team with several live projects. When I started, the business was in the middle of moving from Lichfield to Fradley. Here, I helped manage the installation of the workstations at the new site, making sure efficiencies were maximised in terms of changeover and set-up times, to ensure productivity is also increased.
“Other projects I worked on included the implementation of sustainable manufacturing and packaging processes both for Norgren and our customers; supporting on the introduction of a new guarding system for pneumatic test equipment; and a total productive maintenance project, which was in preparation for a small actuator mixed model cell used on the factory floor. Having responsibility from the onset, really made me feel like a valued member of the team and encouraged me to always do my best.”
With the theme of this year’s National Apprenticeship Week being Skills for Life, Mr Briguglio believes some of the biggest skills he’s been able to take away from his apprenticeship, aren’t solely related to technical areas. In fact, he feels it is some of the softer skills that have given him a real advantage.
“For me, one of the best things about my apprenticeship has been the focus Norgren places on problem-solving which I’ve been able to develop in a working environment,” he says. “The team and my mentors really encouraged me and the other apprentices to think outside the box and challenge our thinking from the get-go. Just because a process has always worked like that, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best way. So, moving away from that mentality to instead thinking ‘how can we do things better’, really opens up the possibilities and has seen some true innovation come to life.”
Since finishing his apprenticeship, Mr Briguglio has completed a degree in Engineering Management, achieving a first-class honour, which Norgren sponsored. He’s now a production engineer and apprentice lead at Norgren and is a firm advocate for apprentices and the role they play in ensuring the industry is attracting future talent.
In addition, Mr Briguglio is also a STEM Ambassador, a role which sees him regularly work with schools across the Midlands to promote the diverse and rewarding careers engineering can offer. “Being a former apprentice myself, I’m passionate about promoting them as a valid career route, together with the breadth of careers available in engineering.
“The STEM projects I’ve been involved in have seen me help to deliver a ten-week programme in schools for children aged 11-13 years. Those that take part are tasked with designing a sustainable automotive plant, with myself and other engineering professionals on hand to lend support and advice. It’s a great initiative as it introduces them to the fundamentals of engineering, but by bringing in sustainability, it also exposes the youngsters to some of the wider issues facing our industry right now.
“I’m a firm believer that greater awareness of engineering and its impact on the world around us from an early age is key to helping ensure we have the best future talent entering our industry, and apprentices are fundamental to this success,” he concludes.