Recruitment is essential: why there should be a concerted effort for dealerships to recruit apprentices


Keith Christian, Director of the British Agricultural and Garden Machinery Association

I CANNOT EMPHASISE enough how essential it is for the landbased engineering sector (LBE) to wake up to the fact that the industry is not recruiting enough people to replace what is an ageing population of technicians (their average age is 55). Estimates suggest that only around 350 people a year are entering into apprenticeships in the landbased engineering sector when we need around 1,000.

We are not alone in the UK in this. All countries are experiencing the same problem with no sign it will improve and no real solution. The LBE sector has to compete with major companies in the engineering industries for new entrants and these industries can appear to be more attractive and more lucrative than our own. They are also struggling to replace their own ageing population of engineers and are looking to other industries to provide replacements.

The traditional supply of new apprentices from the farming community has slowed down as farms disappear or merge into bigger entities. Agricultural and horticultural engineering is not being promoted as a career and information about it is fragmented and not so easy to find. Manufacturers’ apprentice training schemes are keeping the industry afloat with qualified people but the dealer network seems to be less inclined generally to offer apprenticeships, perhaps because of a lack of understanding or a reluctance to engage with the unknown.

There is no question that LBE needs to help itself in recruiting new entrants and that regardless of the size of a dealership there should be a concerted effort on the part of all dealerships to recruit new people into the industry. A large multi-branch dealership may be running schemes for as many as 20 apprentices a year whereas a smaller garden machinery business may need only one or two. Whatever and wherever the requirement is, it needs to add up to a lot more than 350 a year.

One of the problems we at BAGMA accept is that many dealers do not know how to recruit or employ an apprentice while others have gone down this route and been let down after investing in an apprentice. The fact of the matter is that one in three apprentices will not complete their course, so you have a 66.66% chance of getting it right – which is an awful lot better than not having a technician at all if you do nothing.

Here is some self-help guidance. Look on the industry’s Landbased Engineering Training and Education website (landbasedengineering.com). Whilst this is a work in progress, it has some helpful guidelines and will shortly be complete. Look on www.landex.org.uk – this site lists colleges that provide landbased engineering courses. For the whole package, go onto the Institute for Apprenticeships or IFA website where all the apprenticeship standards and assessment procedures can be found.

Dealers should also understand that there is funding available if you are employing an apprentice and your local training provider can help you with advice on this. There are also special rates of pay for an apprentice although, apart from this, they are employed normally. If you are concerned about an apprentice leaving before they have served their time or just after, you can legally incorporate a ‘clawback clause’ in their employment contract to recover some of your investment in their training.

Employing and training an apprentice is an investment in the future and it is an investment in the industry itself, so think about it and do what you can locally to encourage more people to join our industry and narrow the skills gap we have.

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Working closely with industry stakeholders, the Health & Safety Executive, dealers, manufacturers and other training industry bodies such as Lantra Awards, the Institute of Motor Industries, City & Guilds, NFU and AEA and others, BAGMA offers a wide range of industry related training courses for the benefit of its own members and others.
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