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Apprentice investment vital for plant hire

The plant hire industry has a duty to attract people to the sector and needs to make it clear that the talent required doesn’t necessarily need to be interesting in driving and fixing bulldozers, according to A-Plant head of customer training solutions Bob Harper.

“The plant hire sector is firmly seated within construction and a lot of people don’t understand what opportunities are available,” he says. “There are so many departments like marketing, IT, accounts, finance and operations. Over the last 10 years, the industry has developed so dramatically that we should be a major employer.”

A-Plant has recruited 26 apprentices during 2010, bringing its total intake to 65. Mr Harper says that keeping a steady flow of newly qualified personnel entering the workforce will be vital in years to come.

He says: “We know when the market picks up, we want to be well placed to move forward with the growth that we hope will happen. If apprentice recruitment figures are cut this year, that will have a dramatic effect in three years time.”

College relationships

A-Plant has a relationship with Reaseheath College in Nantwich, Cheshire which provides training. Mr Harper says: “Originally, our apprentices were distributed across 14 colleges across the country which made it very hard to manage the programme. Four years ago we drew up a sole supplier agreement with the college and that has paid dividends. All our students are part of the college, irrespective of where they’re based. It’s almost like having a plant academy, although they mix with other students from other firms as well.”

Over the course of three years, Plant Maintenance apprentices attend Reaseheath for a total of 30 weeks on a residential basis in four week blocks and complete the NVQ Level 2 in Plant Maintenance and the subsequent NVQ Level 3 in Advanced Plant Maintenance.                                                                      

The remainder of their training time is spent in one of A-Plant’s branches where as members of the local team, they learn how equipment is serviced, maintained and repaired. A-Plant says 22 of these apprentices joined the firm last year.

The four other new students who started work in 2010 were three who studied in customer service and one trained as a driver.  The drivers are based in an A-Plant service centre and follow a NVQ Level 2 in driving HGV vehicles, eventually leading to full HGV driver status.  The Customer Service Apprentices are assessed in the workplace, effectively training to become Rental Managers whilst pursuing a NVQ Level 2 Customer Service qualification. 

Mr Harper, who is also chairman of the Construction Plant-hire Association training committee, says that this policy has helped boost retention rates among apprentices. “The industry average is about 66 per cent, but we enjoy rates of 96 per cent. That’s solely down to the fact we’re able to manage the apprentices and have a close relationship with the college. I’m in contact with Reaseheath on a daily basis and we’re consistently planning for the future.”

Recruitment opens in February for the September intake of new students. “We’re looking to recruit a similar number of trainees this year, around 30 plant mechanics and 40-50 apprentices overall,” he said.

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