Dudley College case study

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A&M EDM is an award-winning precision engineering company, manufacturing high value components from metal or composite material to exacting specifications for high tech customers. In common with other local manufacturers, A&M face the challenge of the skills gap; as a generation retires and new engineers need to be developed through an apprentice programme.

Established in 2002, A&M is based in Smethwick, at the heart of Black Country manufacturing industry. The company has grown from strength to strength under the leadership of Managing Director, Mark Wingfield. A&M began as wire and spark eroders, but saw a gap in the market for high quality precision engineering offering design for manufacture capabilities using CNC machines. Mark used his engineering experience to launch the business, which has organically grown from just two employees to a current work force of almost 60 staff, with apprentices at the heart of this growth.

Having completed an apprenticeship, himself with sheet metal engineers Speedwell Gearcase, the first company in the UK to produce titanium bike frames, Mark understood how skills and knowledge could be transmitted through a combination of work place learning and off the job training.

Working with Dudley College as their major apprentice training partner the company currently has six trainees working towards their Advanced Engineering Apprenticeship. Mark is keen that his apprentices make a real contribution to the company’s bottom line, so from the very early stages of their apprenticeship they are given a high degree of trust and don’t simply work on test pieces but produce real commercial work. A&M EDM provide components to brands in the aerospace, automobile and Formula 1 sectors which means the apprentices’ pieces are part of a global supply chain. The company is at the cutting edge of disruptive technologies, supplying components for the manufacture of flying bikes and cars amongst other clients. Commenting on the spirit of innovation at the firm Mark says:

"We don’t always make regular components we are working in high tech sectors, which require us to be a true development partner, helping to problem solve by bringing our engineering know-how to develop new solutions for new types of products.”

Recruiting the right kind of young people into this forward thinking business is the role of Quality Co-ordinator and Apprenticeship Supervisor Kevin Powell. Not only do the recruits need to have high grades in mathematics at GCSE or A level but they also need to impress him with their soft skills. Kevin describes what he is looking for in an apprentice as:

"A little bit of "cockiness,” as they need to have the confidence to question things they are asked to do, as this is a critical part of the learning process.” 

And everyone in the workforce takes a role in supporting the apprentices as each of them is allocated a mentor from amongst the production team, who pass on their skillset and help to develop the talents of their protégé’s.

It’s this culture of making the apprentices an integral part of the workforce which really pays dividends. Commenting on this Mark Wingfield says:

"All the people who work here take a part in training the apprentices. They know that a company like any engineered product is only as good as all the parts. It’s my aim to create a legacy built on excellence, hopefully for these apprentices to carry on.”   

This ambition is shared by the apprentices themselves. A&M apprentices, Brett Moore and Josh Salt were selected as finalists by the manufacturers’ organisation, EEF for their Midlands region Apprentice of the Year. Brett (aged20) says:

"I’m learning a lot both here and at college and want to continue to a degree level apprenticeship. Hopefully one day this will lead me to be a manager here at A&M or with my own firm.”

With A&M EDM’s commitment to their apprentices and the apprentices’ commitment to the firm, even greater success is predicted for all.

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