Growing apprenticeship scheme cornerstone of business
Buckley Systems, producer of precision electromagnets, is more than doubling the number of apprentices it employs at its Mt Wellington complex.
It is a no-brainer for the company. “It’s the cornerstone of where we are going,” said Dion Orbell, the company’s Chief People Officer. “The business and company are growing so we need more people.”
Twelve months ago, Buckley Systems had 11 apprentices. Now it has 20 on its books and plans to have 26 by the middle of next year.
It believes it has the biggest engineering apprenticeship programme in New Zealand’s manufacturing industry.
“The apprentices have a positive impact on the business virtually straight away,” said Orbell. “They contribute to what we produce.”
Buckley Systems’ product is all exported and is used in semiconductor manufacture, oncology treatment facilities, medical and scientific diagnostic devices and physics research facilities.
The company has a 37-year history of manufacturing ion implantation and particle acceleration systems in New Zealand, while resisting approaches to move production off shore.
To make sure the apprenticeship programme works, Buckley Systems must have the right ratio of senior tradesmen to apprentices for inhouse mentoring, said Orbell.
He said Buckley Systems was still breaking down the perception that a university education was best and that taking up a trade was only a second option for school leavers.
With former technical institutes changing to more academic, university type courses, the graduates being produced have strong theoretical knowledge but limited practical application, he said.
Schools were starting to appreciate the alternatives available to students and many apprentices have come to Buckley Systems having completed NCEA Level 2 or Level 3 rather than going onto tertiary education.
As part of its apprenticeship programme, Buckley Systems also runs a six-month pre-apprenticeship programme so potential apprentices can understand the various trades available and decide which one would best suit them.
During that six-month course, pre-apprentices get a taste of fabricating, machining, computer numerical control, electrical and maintenance trades, which have four-year apprenticeships with some formal study, usually online. There is an annual block course of two to three weeks, usually at Manukau Institute of Technology.
During their apprenticeship, apprentices also get to spend time at Buckley Systems’ associated company, BSL Racing, building Speedway race cars.
The company’s founder Bill Buckley has a philosophy of not waiting for things to happen. “We can’t rely on the outside for the company to grow,” said Orbell. “Bill is a champion of Kiwi Incorporated. We have to invest in the future. We need more staff and we have to bring them in at the bottom as there are not enough qualified, skilled tradesmen out there to hire.”
Despite the considerable investment in the training of apprentices, Buckley Systems does not bond them. “If they are treated well in a good culture, they want to stay with us,” said Orbell. “The company gets the benefit of their work while they are apprentices.”
Highly-skilled tradesmen are paid well, with Buckley Systems offering competitive rates of remuneration. “After four years, qualified apprentices go straight onto tradesman’s rates,” said Orbell. “They can earn a good living at a young age.”