The UK’s sole Cat® Lift Truck distributor Impact Handling is countering the acute skills shortage in the logistics and materials handling industry with its apprenticeship programme, with this year’s intake already signed up – and the company hopes to expand the initiative in coming years.
Launched in 2012 and running in conjunction with North Warwickshire & Hinckley College, the three- or four-year programme currently sees four new students per year combining college-based technical training with hands-on experience repairing and maintaining forklifts and other materials handling systems at one of Impact Handling’s 11 depots around the UK.
Impact Handling Group Operations Manager John Davies says that while the company’s apprenticeship programme has been a great success, there’s always room for both the expanding company and the industry as a whole to do more: “In the long term, there’s no doubt that the apprenticeship programme is one key way we can fulfil our commitment to providing our customers with consistently excellent levels of service and support.
“We need skilled engineers with the right training and the right attributes, and to get that type of person Impact Handling and the industry will have to push the envelope – more training, more outreach and more apprenticeships. It’s almost inevitable that Impact Handling will expand its apprenticeship programme further in 2016.”
At the end of the course, the apprentices are offered a position with Impact Handling as a Forklift Engineer, working to ensure the company’s customers get the very best in service support and labour-saving technology across the company’s wide product range.
Davies stresses that the company continues to support the new staff members as they begin their day-to-day work: “The transition from college to career can be difficult, so Impact Handling is geared to provide additional help as our newly qualified engineers take on the responsibilities required of a fully-fledged Forklift Engineer.”
On the subject of the skills shortage, he adds: “On the face of it, materials handling and logistics isn’t an ultra-glamorous career, however, there’s virtually no product people buy that isn’t at some point handled by a piece of materials handling equipment.
“The industry needs to do more to raise the profile of materials handling and logistics as a great career path for anyone of any age who has a fascination with transport and engineering. What we’re offering is a position with good prospects, on-the-job training and a chance for progression in both life and career.”
Third-year apprentice Charlie Coleman has been working at Impact Handling’s Corby depot, and is certain that the company’s apprenticeship programme – and a career in materials handling and logistics – is right for him: “I prefer to work with my hands; I work better like that. This is the kind of industry where you get to use your brain and your hands at the same time, and I love it. Every day brings a new challenge. My mentor is always there so he can step in and show me how to do something or offer advice. Impact Handling has been very good to me.”
Coleman – like Davies – recognises that more needs to be done to entice the next generation of mechanical engineers into the business. He adds: “When you’re at school you don’t really hear a lot about a job in materials handling or logistics. None of my schoolmates were aware of the potential career path, and that’s something that needs to change.”
Davies adds: “Right throughout education the industry needs schools to be promoting the idea that if you have a keen interest in things mechanical and prefer to be hands on, you should consider a career in mechanical engineering.”