Despite the tough economic conditions, a promising apprentice is forging a career in plant
An interest in BMX is not the most immediate route into a career at JCB, but apprentice Paul Howard found a Btec National Diploma course and a Modern Apprenticeship scheme have helped him along this road.
Mr Howard, a mechanical design engineering apprentice, with JCB, says he got a sense of his own potential studying at college.
“I always liked playing with bikes and taking them apart,” he says, “but it wasn’t until I went to college for my national diploma that I realised I could take this interest further.”
For his second year project, Mr Howard developed a bicycle sprocket, exploring the use of different materials and analysing stress in each tooth. This, he says, encouraged him to pursue a career in engineering.
“I had always struggled with maths and science in school, but when it came to the maths involved in a mechanical equation, it made sense to me,” he adds. “I realised that I had a bit of potential, which I hadn’t found before college.”
Mr Howard is now 15 months into an apprenticeship at Wrexham-based JCB Transmissions and has since won the Welsh national in his class of the Engineering Employers’ Federation (EEF) 1st Year Modern Apprenticeship competition.
During the first 12 months of his apprenticeship, his tutor recognised Mr Howard as a good candidate for the award and nominated him for the North and mid-Wales regional final. He beat 40 other candidates and has a place in the national final.
The experience has been very positive on his development at JCB. “It’s been excellent really,” he says. “I just want to go on now and complete my apprenticeship and I want to pass the course this year.”
Engineering manager Tim Boothroyd says in-house training is becoming increasingly important for the company as qualified workers are a valuable commodity.
“We do tend to hang on to the people that we have trained here,” he says. “We will recruit people from outside, but engineering has a dwindling pool of people.”
JCB Transmissions has two more apprentices in college on the first year of its course. Mr Howard works four days a week and spends one day at Glyndwr University in Wrexham to study for a HNC in Mechanical Engineering.
Mr Howard says his progression from the college-based first year of his apprenticeship to his second year and working in the factory was daunting, but will give him a good grounding on his route to becoming a design engineer.
“It was a big step up,” he says. “The sheer size of the factory was overwhelming, but everyone has taken me under their wing and made me feel welcome.”
He will be moved around different teams in the factory to gain a practical knowledge of the manufacturing process. This will include five weeks on axel assemblies, five weeks on gear boxes and eight weeks in different departments of the machine shop.
Mr Howard is following in the footsteps of Mr Boothroyd, who was an apprentice 30 years ago. Although he took a six-year apprenticeship, and the technology was more basic - US-designed calculators were just beginning to come into use - Mr Boothroyd says the foundations laid by an apprenticeship will stand Mr Howard in good stead throughout his career.
“To be a design engineer you need to have a good knowledge of all the product areas,” he says. “The technology has certainly changed, but you still need the basic skills that Paul will pick up.”