Opening doors…

Published:  06 May, 2015

After attending a See Inside Manufacturing open day at Schaeffler UK in 2012, 18-year old Liam Smith is now enjoying life as an engineering apprentice toolmaker at the company’s Llanelli plant in South Wales. PWE reports.

“The See Inside Manufacturing [SIM] open day at Schaeffler UK in 2012 was a real eye-opener for me. I particularly enjoyed the engineering challenges we were set on the day, as these tested our problem solving and team working skills. These challenges, as well as the guided tour of the factory, gave me a taste of what it is like to work in an engineering environment”, enthused Liam Smith, engineering apprentice toolmaker at Schaeffler UK’s Llanelli plant.”

He continued: “The guided tour was fantastic. For the first time, I got the chance to see the variety of machines used in a high speed, high volume production environment. I saw a CNC machine tool for the first time and couldn’t believe the fine tolerances that the Schaeffler plant works to. Seeing all this made up my mind that I wanted to work in a practical, hands-on engineering role.”

Early inspiration

Prior to attending the SIM open day, Liam was unsure about his future career plans. In his early years, Liam attended Cross Hands primary school in Llanelli, where, he said, he had no thoughts whatsoever about working in engineering. It wasn’t until Maes yr Yrfa secondary school that Liam first started to consider a career in engineering: “My grandfather had a workshop in his garden, where he was always making things. I was lucky enough to be allowed to use his lathe, a miller and a drilling machine. At the age of 12, I remember making a chisel and a metal bar for a gate, which I had to turn, tap and thread. So my grandfather was a real inspiration to me.”

At 14, Liam started to take a real interest in physics at school. He suggested to the school that he set up a Young Engineers after-school club every Thursday afternoon. The school agreed and so Liam and many other pupils (both male and female) enjoyed two years of problem solving, design challenges and making things.

In June 2012, aged 15, Liam attended the SIM open day at Schaeffler UK, which confirmed to him that he should pursue a career in engineering. A few months later, he left secondary school with seven GCSE’s, including Physics and DT (Design & Technology). “At this time, I was accepted by my local college, Coleg Sir Gar, to study a three-year BTEC level 2 course in General Engineering, which included both mechanical and electrical engineering and lots of practical, hands on work.”

“In the second year of this course, I did lots of work on lathes, milling machines and hand fitting. That year was a bridge for me to progress to a BTEC Level III, which I am currently studying for. I work four days a week at Schaeffler UK and attend Coleg Sir Gar on a day-release.”

In September 2014, while studying the second year of his BTEC at Coleg Sir Gar, Liam applied for an engineering apprenticeship at Schaeffler UK. After three separate interviews, he was offered an engineering apprentice position at the Llanelli plant. Liam is currently working in the toolroom for a six-month period, but will then spend time in the maintenance department, where he can put his electrical and mechanical skills to the test.

For Liam, a typical day at the plant involves a meeting with his supervisor/mentor to discuss work activities for that day. This normally involves toolroom support for the automation projects team which is responsible for implementing new automation systems across the plant. These systems help to improve the efficiency of individual machines and complete production lines, as well as helping to reduce manual handling, remove bottlenecks from production, and to reduce manufacturing throughput times.

Employer’s View

As an employer, how does Schaeffler UK view Liam’s progress so far? Gareth Gravell, toolroom technician at Schaeffler UK and Liam’s supervisor/mentor, commented: “It’s only been a couple of months since Liam started working with us, but in that short time, he has shown himself to be a positive, enthusiastic member of the team. He is also willing and keen to learn and isn’t scared to ask questions if he doesn’t understand something. He is very switched on during the working day and takes a genuine interest and pride in his work – qualities that I particularly like to see in a new apprentice.”

He continued: “I also believe that studying a mix of mechanical and electrical engineering subjects at college will stand Liam in good stead at this company and wherever the future takes him. These days, it is very important as a young engineer coming into engineering to be able to demonstrate to your employer that you have a good mix of skills and knowledge that can be utilised in more than one specific area of the company. For example, Liam is capable of working in either the toolroom or in other areas of the plant such as maintenance or automation projects. It’s all about job flexibility and adapting your skills to more than one specific role.”

As Gareth Gravell puts it: “Liam is an excellent role model for young people who attend our annual SIM open days. Liam’s example is proof that the SIM campaign really is working, not only for young people like Liam, but also for the employers. Schaeffler UK is very confident that our investment in Liam will reap its rewards in the future.”

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