Can industrial cadets help you conquer the skills shortage?

6 Mar, 2019

The Industrial Cadets scheme aims to help address skills shortage affecting manufacturing. We had the pleasure of being introduced to the scheme by one of Worcester’s largest employers, Yamazaki Mazak, a leading global manufacturer of machine tools.

About Mazak

Mazak has 11 production plants including the 29,000 square metre production facility at its EU Headquarters in Worcester. Mazak is one of the world’s leaders in machine tool production and 50% of all the machines installed in Europe were manufactured at the UK facility. The components are produced on Mazak’s own machines before being assembled on site and shipped to customers.

Mazak machines are in action around the globe making parts as varied as those used in jet engines, knee replacements and even McLaren race cars. The top end machines include sophisticated robotic and connected technology and cost upwards of a million pounds. Accordingly, you may conclude that Mazak’s customer base is predominately large corporates but Non Executive Director Marcus Burton, was keen to stress that over 60% of orders are from SMEs. Marcus has a particular interest in supporting SME manufacturers in the UK; indeed, his aim is for Mazak to enable such customers to deliver customised products for the same price as an off-the-shelf item using Mazak’s multi-tasking computer controlled machine tools.

Industrial Cadets: addressing the skills shortage

It was Teruyuki Yamazaki that developed the strategy that ensured the rapid international growth of his Japanese family owned business. His philosophy was based on strong management principles and a belief that marketing must come first – even for an industrial product manufacturer. He was determined that his company would adapt to changes in the market so keeping abreast of changes in both customer needs and technological advancements has always been critical. Mazak has a keen eye for product development, with many of its current product range being introduced within the last three years, the company remains true to this principle almost one hundred years since its foundation.

In order to maintain its reputation for forward-thinking, Mazak knew that it needed to attract younger employees who would offer a new perspective on how to do things. It also recognised that as an employer it had a responsibility for helping address the skills shortage. After operating an apprenticeship programme for many years, Marcus found himself discussing ways to attract younger talent to industry with HRH Prince Charles when he visited Mazak’s manufacturing plant at Worcester in 2013. Before the conversation was over, Marcus had pledged to join the Industrial Cadets scheme, of which Prince Charles is the patron. Prince Charles immediately announced this intention to the audience of Mazak employees ensuring that the commitment was binding!

Industrial Cadets sees manufacturers of all sizes commit to providing a worthwhile work experience programme for 11-19 year-olds. Mazak’s scheme is for predominately Year Ten students (ages 14 to 15). In the words of Chris Morris, Learning and Development Advisor, it is like the ‘Duke of Edinburgh Award for work experience.’

Initially, there was some internal resistance from those expected to help deliver the programme. This, coupled with low initial interest from local schools – just one teacher turned up to its first teacher education event – would have made it easy to shelve the initiative, but Marcus’s conviction that employers should share the responsibility for addressing skills shortages with schools, coupled with his Royal promise, ensured that the company persevered.

Since then, the programme has gone from strength to strength and now the company welcomes groups of six pupils, selected from a pool of local schools, several times a year. Having experienced kick back when introducing the scheme, Chris wryly admits that he would now experience the same response if the company were to leave the scheme. The fifty-strong cross-functional team which supports the Cadets thoroughly enjoy the change of routine brought by an influx of youngsters and Chris is often stopped and asked when the next cohort is due. Such employee engagement is a far cry from the early days when a small number employees supported the first group of Cadets. Matt Farmer, Electrical specialist, said that “The cadets have brought youth and exuberance to everyday factory life. They put a genuine smile on my face!”

The Cadet Experience

A week away from a school-desk is incentive enough for many students to consider work experience anywhere, but the Mazak experience gives Cadets an immersive insight into the world of work. Cadets are provided with their Mazak uniform on their first day so they immediately feel part of the family. Over the course of the week, they take part in hands-on activities, including team building challenges, and hear presentations from many different departments. This builds a picture for them of the business as a whole and helps them identify how their skills and interests would fit into a manufacturing organisation. At the end of the week, teachers and parents are invited in to hear the Cadets present on their experience. For many, it is a nerve-wracking introduction to public speaking within a formal auditorium environment but they soon flourish in the supportive atmosphere.

Chris explains that the level of commitment shown by the company is clearly appreciated by the Cadets themselves, as well as their teachers and families. Recently, one Cadet proudly reflected on his week’s activities, favourably comparing them to his friend who had spent his work experience week manually shredding documents for a local solicitors. Another Cadet’s parents thanked Chris, explaining that they felt they had ‘got their son back’ after a period of him being so disengaged at school that pastoral support had been necessary.

The impact of the Cadet programme can be felt many years after. Each Cadet finishes their work experience with a portfolio of their work, including video footage of their performance in activities, which they can use to demonstrate their skills to potential employers.

A Flexible Framework

Mazak clearly has more available resource than many smaller manufacturers but the Industrial Cadet programme’s flexible framework means that it is accessible to all sizes of business. Participating employers are encouraged to choose the level of commitment which is right for them from Challenger (offering taster activities) and Bronze (20 hours) through to Platinum which requires placement activities. Mazak’s Silver level (30 hours) was no barrier to success at the Industrial Cadets’ Awards earlier this year when the firm won the ‘Employer of the Year’ Award, which was handed to them in person by Prince Charles. Some of Mazak’s Cadets were even on hand at the ceremony to share in the excitement.

Unexpected benefits for Mazak

Although the scheme is separate to Mazak’s apprenticeship programme, it has helped generate more applications for their apprenticeships. Mazak take on 17 to 20 apprentices a year from a pool of around 160 applicants, compared to the three or four the company took on just a few years ago. Some of Mazak’s current apprentices have been Industrial Cadets at the company in the past.

A strong example of this is current Year 3 sheet metal apprentice, Harry Fuller, who took part when he was at a local school in 2014. In the final year of his GCSEs, he successfully applied to work in the sheet metal department of the business. Roles within this section were historically a challenge to attract talent, however, he was drawn to it as a result of his experience with the company. In 2017, he was awarded the Personal Development Award at Worcestershire Group Training Association’s annual award ceremony. As he enters the final part of his apprenticeship, he has excelled and is completing the cycle by being actively involved with the current groups of cadets that partake in the scheme.

Mazak’s Top Tips for Addressing the Skills Shortage

Find out if joining the Industrial Cadets scheme is right for you.
Decide on the level of commitment you can make
Build relationships with local schools
Appoint organisational STEM Ambassadors
Promote the organisation at careers events and/or site visits
Find out more about Mazak

Mazak is a family owned business founded in 1919. It has 7,000 employees worldwide. Find out more about Mazak.

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