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Investing in a sustainable future through apprenticeships

The Liebherr Group is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of construction machinery, employing nearly 50,000 colleagues globally. The Group’s Sunderland site is part of its maritime division, manufacturing maritime cranes for use in port environments on ships and offshore rigs. Liebherr-Sunderland Managing Director, Ralph Saelzer, explains how the business continued with its successful apprenticeship programme throughout 2020.

How many apprentices does the Liebherr Group have in Sunderland?

In Sunderland we employ 180 people, and 23 of those are apprentices. Apprentices at the Liebherr Group take on a whole spectrum of roles and at our Sunderland site the majority are in shop floor roles like welding and fabrication. We also have apprentice roles in quality engineering and dispatch, and there are opportunities for staff to take on degree-level apprenticeships – three of our team have already completed a degree apprenticeship in leadership and management with Sunderland University.

What challenges did you and your apprentices face during COVID-19 and how did you overcome them?

When the pandemic hit, the question was whether we could continue to provide training on site for our apprentices. And could our apprentices still work alongside experienced staff in a meaningful way? It became clear that we could introduce the necessary social distancing and other precautions and still be able to carry on.

Another question was whether our training providers, like SETA, who we work with very closely, were still operating. We verified that they were, and that some of the training would now take place over Zoom. So we haven’t faced too much real disruption, we have just had to change the format of what we do, and people have had no problems with adhering to the guidelines.

What value do your apprentices bring to the business?

The value is immeasurable. Our apprenticeship scheme means that we can counteract any problems that might arise due to an ageing workforce, or difficulty in recruiting skilled tradespeople. This way we train our own staff and we bring skilled young people into the business. Apprenticeships aren’t a cost, they are an investment into a sustainable future.

What advice for other businesses hoping to work with apprentices potentially during lockdown?

It would be a big, big mistake to stop offering apprenticeships. It’s crucial that companies are still prepared to invest in apprenticeships despite the current situation – what you don’t invest in now, you will miss tomorrow.

Find information and guidance for businesses on hiring an apprentice on the North East Growth Hub.