We recently caught up with Patrick Kearney of Key Plastics to share his thoughts on how the apprenticeship programme is going so far.
How did you come across the Apprenticeship Programme and what skills do the apprenticeships fill?
At present, we have 6 apprentices on site –including Polymer Processing Apprentices, Manufacturing Engineer Apprentices and Apprentice Toolmakers. We had identified a skills gap in these areas at the facility and we were keen to put the right resources in place to meet the demands of the business. It was a challenge to recruit skilled people, however, we needed to bring in new blood, but we found it really hard to identify people with the right training and experience.
So we had a look at the options available through the Solas website and engaged with local representatives to help make it all happen.
In practice, how has the programme worked from your perspective as an employer?
It’s worked well. We would be in trouble without the apprenticeship programme. Prior to this, we went out to the trade and had a look around and investigated trying to re-skill some guys, to work in areas such as CNC operators, but unfortunately, they just weren’t out there.
Until recently, a lot of the type of work we did was going abroad but a lot of it is coming back now. We need more skilled people – with relevant trades - here in Ireland. Hopefully this trend will continue so that these jobs are sustainable when the guys come out of the college – we expect that this will be the case and, in any case, they will be equipped with skills that will travel.
Overall, it’s a good program, that’s badly needed.
If I was to look at improvements it would be from a financial point of view. I think there’s probably a lot of people out there who would like to do the programme but probably couldn’t afford to.
How have the Apprentices themselves found it so far?
They are happy with it. I think it’s a win-win for all. The manufacturing engineering and polymer apprentices are achieving their college degree and learning an industry trade alongside experienced process Engineers and manufacturing Engineers. Key plastics is a fantastic environment to learn a trade and the company is 100% supportive of all our apprentices.
Were any of the apprentices involved with your latest medical device – Umbifunnel?
Yes – the Polymer/Manufacturing/and tool making apprentice got involved with the product Umbifunnel. This is an exciting and innovative product and something that we are very proud of at Key Plastics.
What have you learned from the programme in general?
We are in different stages with the apprenticeships. On the Polymer, the polymer Eng. will come to us for his onsite learning in May. That means that he is on the last leg of the programme.
One thing that we could look to do in the future is swapping process engineers around a little bit with other companies…so they can pick up, support and learn different skills, but all in processing. For example, moving one of my guys to another local facility.
We do multiples of different engineering polymers whereas another company may pretty much only do one polymer. However, they may do it at a different level. Therefore, our apprentice could be upskilled in their approach which might be very different and they would have a hand in another business’s processes. That’d be great for their learning experience and it could open further doors to them in the future.
It’s a great programme and more companies should get involved! Having apprentices in your company is a great help in managing workflow and meeting deadlines. It can free up time to focus on other areas. It’s also very satisfying to see the development of an apprentice as they improve and deepen their skill levels.