Grow­ing ap­pren­tice­ship scheme cor­ner­stone of busi­ness

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - NEWS - DION ORBELL.

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.”

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