Is your workforce getting older with no one coming through the ranks? How will your business function in five years’ time, or even less?

The answer could be to train your own apprentice welders. But the idea often provokes a lot of reasons why not to do it.

So perhaps it’s time to look at some of these objections and see if they stand up to scrutiny:

Young people aren’t interested in welding

It’s a bit of an urban myth that all teenagers these days want to be celebrities or design video games. Some do, but there’s plenty left who are keen to commit to careers in the engineering sector. Ask Hartwell Manufacturing who, worried about the growing skills gap, launched their own training centre. Over 400 applied for 14 places and now Hartwell plan to take another group in 2017.

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 I don’t have the time to mentor an apprentice

Many welding SMEs see this as the most daunting obstacle. You’re welders, not trainers. Where would you start? The answer lies with your experienced staff. They will remember their training, and if it was done well. Make use of their experience and choose a mentor who likes to share knowledge and is also well organised. Together, map out the programme of shop floor supervision that will complement your apprentice’s learning at a local training provider. If you’re new to apprenticeships, you can start with one apprentice to pilot the mentoring process, see what works and what doesn’t.

You will need to keep the process simple with clear goals and benchmarks to measure and recognise progress. Praise for both the apprentice and mentor will also do wonders. And don’t forget, the training provider who works with other companies should also be a good source of experience and guidance.

The training they get away from the shop floor isn’t realistic enough

Apprentices spend part of their time at their workplace and the rest at a local training provider being taught the fundamental skills. But completing a flat weld in ideal circumstances in college is not the same as working on the shop floor. How do you overcome any reality gap between the apprentice’s formal training and work experience?

To address this, bodies such as the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) has selected and accredited over 20 training providers in England, Scotland and Wales, including private trainers and colleges, to make sure what they teach and how they teach it meet industry requirements.

Also there is an industry push to update apprenticeship standards to ensure workplace relevance. A consortium of employers, skills bodies and the Welding Institute has designed new apprenticeship standards for arc welding at Level 2 and Level 3 which should become available over the next year.

After all the effort we’ve put in, once they’ve qualified they’ll just leave for another job.

This is perhaps the final barrier – after all the time invested, will someone else benefit? Well that, in many ways, is down to you. Best practice is to make the transition from apprentice to worker seamless. Maintain their development when the apprenticeship ends. Identify particular skills they have learned and how they can now be further developed. Help them to see a path forward within your company and start this process well before the apprenticeship ends, not on the last day. That, and the relationship you will have established with your apprentice through open and constructive communication, should go a long way to keeping them.

Are you struggling developing the skills your business needs to remain competitive? The Welders’ Toolkit provides practical advice and guidance on skills, process efficiencies and technologies to make your welding business more profitable. Download it here.