‘There has never been a more important time than now to keep up investment in training’ says the boss of a leading hydraulics company that is reaping rewards from an apprentice scheme to help local firms secure the skills they need for future growth.
The message from Robin Penny, managing director of Penny Hydraulics Ltd based in Chesterfield, is clear: if you want to keep ahead of the opposition then you need the right people with the right skills. That’s why he signed up to the Close Brothers SME Apprenticeship Programme supported by University of Sheffield AMRC Training Centre and the Manufacturing Technologies Association.
Since launching in 2015 it has helped pay for 40 apprentices to support smaller businesses across the Sheffield City Region. One of those is Penny Hydraulics apprentice Louie Hodkin who is proving to be a valuable asset to the organisation.
Robin said: “The pandemic has highlighted various issues within the business, but the increased flexibility of well-trained apprentices has helped us to continue to function and deliver valuable turnover. They are trained engineers not trained to do one job.
“Our apprentice Louie Hodkin, who is supported by the Close Brothers scheme, had been working on vehicle mounted cranes but with the advent of lockdown no new vehicles were coming onto the market and orders stopped almost overnight. He was transferred to our Nuclear Decommissioning Division to assist with the preparation and winning of tenders.
“He could be home based, and this sector was largely unaffected by the pandemic. By increasing our manpower in this division, we were able to win more tenders, one of which is the highest value that we have ever had.”
Robin added: “There has never been a more important time than now to keep up the investment in training. Engineering is becoming ever more technical and if we want to keep ahead of the opposition then we need the best people to be ready to lead the company into the future.”
Director of the AMRC Training Centre, Nikki Jones, said the Close Brothers’ apprentice scheme continues to bring benefit to local firms, some of which wouldn’t necessarily be able to take on an apprentice otherwise, and those apprentices go on to make a significant investment by helping put £20m in wages into homes of some of the most disadvantaged in the region.
She added: “The Close Brothers apprentice programme is a double-win for industry: it not only helps companies to recruit and develop the skills they need for future growth; it also helps them to drive innovation and productivity by injecting fresh blood and ideas into their business. Maintaining and nurturing this skills base has never been more crucial if we are to build manufacturing resilience and begin our economic recovery.”
Penny Hydraulics was founded in 1978 and has grown to become the UK’s leading lorry-loader crane manufacturer, goods lift manufacturer and lighting winch manufacturer whose customers include Royal Palaces, BT and VW.
Last year, it operated in 22 countries worldwide, also providing specialist design and manufacturing services to the nuclear decommissioning, mining and tyre handling industries.
Robin says the company places huge value on its human capital and has made a clear commitment to recruiting apprentices who can bring fresh ideas into the organisation.
“We have proven over the past 15 years that skills are the key to efficiency and improvement,” he said. “Turnover per employee has risen from £18k per employee per year, to £100K per employee per year. Apprentices have been the key to this as they have the knowledge of our business and the aptitude to be able to see avenues for improvement.
“Most are minor steps forward but over time they make a huge impact on our performance. Ten years ago, we adopted a policy of starting two new apprentices each year. Almost all have stayed with us and some have gone on to be supervisors and section managers whilst others progressed to the degree apprenticeship programme.”
Close Brothers firmly backs the role of apprentices in helping firms grow.
Steve Gee, CEO of Close Brothers Asset Finance’s Industrial Equipment Division, said SMEs often need assistance to take on apprentices, which is why they designed the programme to help with the specific issues smaller firms face. Under its current SME programme, the merchant banking group contributes 50 per cent of the wages of the apprentices in the first year and 25 per cent in the second year,
Steve added: “We are very proud to have played our part in the scheme’s success and look forward to our ongoing involvement. The economic and social impact of Covid-19 makes schemes like this more important than ever because we are still going to need to meet the demands of the engineering sector when the economy recovers; we won’t be able to afford to play catch-up from a skills perspective.”
James Selka, CEO of the Manufacturing Technologies Association, said: “The importance of manufacturing and engineering to the UK is fundamental to our national wellbeing and as the need to transform to a green economy increases, it is vital we concentrate on skills for our sector.
“Investing in the future generation is instrumental for the growth of the manufacturing technologies and engineering industry. It has long been understood that there is an enormous skills gap that exists in our industry and we thank our members, Close Brothers and AMRC, for continuing to make such a major contribution to helping address this issue.”