Official Report (Hansard)
Date: Wednesday, 06 May 2009
The Way Forward for Apprenticeships
6 May 2009
Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Alex Easton
Mr David Hilditch
Mr William Irwin
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill
Mr Rory Galway ) Bombardier Aerospace
Mr Stephen Snowdon )
The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey):
We move now to the briefing from Bombardier Aerospace under the Committee’s investigation into apprenticeships. I welcome Rory and Stephen to the meeting. You probably did not hear the presentation that we received from young people earlier. Please give the Committee an introduction with some background, after which, members will ask questions. Thank you for coming.
Mr Rory Galway (Bombardier Aerospace):
I thank the Committee for the opportunity to give a presentation, a copy of which has been circulated to members.
I am Rory Galway, manager of equal opportunities and technical training. My colleague is Stephen Snowdon, our technical training manager, who is responsible for our skills centre, which is based in Interpoint in the centre of Belfast. I offer apologies on behalf of Carol Phillips, director of organisational development and employer relations. Unfortunately, Carol is ill; she has got a cold. I spoke to her last night, and she is very poorly, and sends her apologies.
I do not intend to go through every word of our presentation, which you will probably be glad to hear. We want to tell you something about the company in Belfast, so I will give you a brief overview. I want to say a few words about our commitments to apprenticeships down the years. Members will see from our notes that we have been committed to our apprentices for over 50 years. I also want to mention our outreach measures.
The theme that we want to get across is that one does not get something for nothing. One has to invest a lot of time, effort and money to try to attract the best people and, hopefully, to develop them into even better individuals and employees, to retain them and to maintain a successful organisation that represents Bombardier in Northern Ireland.
I will briefly go through our recruitment process to emphasise the measures that we take to try to ensure that we get the best people. Stephen will then take the Committee through the details of our apprentice-training programme. We will refer to the last Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) report that we got in March 2008, which was very good from our point of view.
We will turn to a couple of other items that we have been involved in, such as our upskilling programme, which is an internal process to move people from semi-skilled roles into skilled roles. We will also refer to the Engineering Skills for Industry programme, which is external training that we have been sending people on to try to prepare them for working in engineering and manufacturing environments. We will finish with some of our views on apprenticeships and what we think is important.
As I have said, I do not want to spend a lot of time on the overview of the company, but it is involved in the design and manufacture of major aircraft components; fuselages, engine nacelles, and flight control surfaces for regional and business jets. Stephen Snowdon has worked for the company for many years. He worked in quality assurance before he took over responsibility for the technical-training school. He will say a few words about the products that we make, as he has more technical expertise than I do.
Mr Stephen Snowdon (Bombardier Aerospace):
Our Belfast plant manufactures fuselage components. The fuselage is the part of the aircraft in which passengers sit. The nacelles are the engine casings, which are built to a high technical specification; they can contain an explosion in the event of an engine failure. We are world leaders in engine-nacelle manufacturing. We do quite a bit of work for Bombardier and Rolls-Royce. All the European Airbus aircraft have Rolls-Royce engines with Bombardier nacelles that are made in Belfast, and we are proud of that tradition.
We currently manufacture a range of regional 70-seater to 100-seater aircraft fuselages, which are bigger and are built for journeys such as Belfast to Paris, Manchester or Newcastle, and have a range of 1,000 miles to 1,200 miles. Bombardier makes a range of business jets for which we make all the fuselages, from a Learjet eight-seater, which costs around $15 million, to a super-luxury Global Express, which does not hold a lot more passengers, but costs approximately $50 million. We build —
How many seats? A 15-seater plane for how much?
An eight-seater Learjet costs around $15 million. A Global Express — the sort of jet owned by people such as Richard Branson — does not hold much more passengers but is a heck of a lot more expensive.
The bigger aircraft that we make do not fly very far. They have a range of approximately 1,000 miles. The smaller aircraft are all capable of transatlantic flight; the six-seater can fly from London to New York. A Global Express will fly a bit further; it has a range of approximately 5,000 miles.
The new CSeries aircraft that you may have heard about can do both. It is capable of transatlantic flight and can carry up to 130 people. It is a different type of aircraft and is roughly the size of the easyJet or Ryanair aircraft that fly between Belfast and London. Most of what we currently manufacture is made of aluminium alloy, but the aviation world is moving rapidly into the use of carbon fibre. It is essentially a cloth material, which comes in rolls, and is shaped in an oven as required. It is a man-made material, so there is no shortage of it. We are running out of bauxite to make aluminium alloy; carbon fibre is the future of aircraft.
At this point, Stephen’s comments about the man-made materials either frighten the life out of people or intrigue them.
That is all that we have to say about our product range. We are involved in virtually every Bombardier aircraft programme, and have been since Bombardier took over Short Bros plc in 1989. The advantage of that is that when things are going well on the regional and business jet fronts, we do extremely well. The downside is that when things are difficult, as they are now, we feel the cold air a bit more because all the programmes are reduced. However, we are taking measures to deal with the difficult situation that we are facing.
We still have 5,300 permanent employees in Northern Ireland. In addition, until recently, we had between 700 and 800 people on temporary contracts or in what we call the complementary labour force — working in the company but employed by an agency. It is with no joy that we say that the temporary or complementary labour force will go first. We hope to minimise the impact on our 5,300 permanent employees. There will be an impact, but we hope to mitigate that by offering as many voluntary redundancies as we can.
When I read through the notes of my presentation last night, I realised that I had inadvertently left out our Newtownabbey plant. I apologise to any members present who represent Newtownabbey.
As long as it is not Strabane, we are OK. [Laughter.]
Machine parts production and the final assembly of different components are carried out at Queen’s Island, and our customer service facility is based there. We have a sheet metal production unit in Newtownards, an advanced-composites unit in Dunmurry and an identical facility in Newtownabbey for work on advanced-composites materials. The Interpoint building — the old Co-op site — in Belfast city centre houses our skills centre. The building was recently sold to the University of Ulster, and we will relocate the skills centre, probably, to its original site on Queen’s Island.
The apprentice training programme has been in operation for over 50 years. Some people argue that it has not changed a bit since it started; however, it has. Less time is spent initially on filing blocks of metal simply to get into the habit of doing so. The programme is much more concentrated and directed. It is a modern apprenticeship for young people. Sorry, I should say young people and not-so-young people. Age-discrimination legislation has taken away any upper age limit.
Throughout difficult years, such as the recession during the early 1990s, we maintained our apprentice intake. A massive event for us occurred in 1996, when Fokker went out of business. We employed more than 1,000 people in the Fokker production unit. More than a third of our business comprised the production of Fokker aircraft wings. We also experienced difficulties post-2001. The central point, however, is that we maintained our apprentice intake during all of those difficult times. We have always taken the view, which our unions have supported, that that intake is desperately important for the company’s future.
There are currently 150 trainees over the three years of the training programme. In 2008, we had an intake of 78 trainees — the largest intake that we have had for many years. In 2009, in difficult times, we propose to take in 40 apprentices of a mix of both craft and technician engineers.
As far as we are concerned, it is critical for our company to be able to produce a skilled workforce for the future. Members will be aware that generally, throughout the past several years, engineering and manufacturing has been in decline in Northern Ireland and, indeed, in Britain and the Republic of Ireland for that matter. To a large extent, we must, if you like, grow our own apprentices because Government training centres do not exist. Few other employers take on large numbers of apprentices. Therefore, the talent pool is being reduced all the time.
Again, it is important for us to be able to take in good people and to train and develop them to become managers of the future. More than 30% of the company’s current management-grade people — in assembly operations, engineering, and methods engineering — have come through our training programme. That is the current percentage, which does not include people who have left us and gone to other companies, retired, or whatever. Therefore, it is a massive concern of ours to be able to develop people.
Page 5 of the submission describes what we do to try to encourage applications. We advertise widely. We have used the press. Having said that, until a couple of years ago, the number of people who applied to our apprenticeships was only around 200, which is low when you consider that, on average, there are 40 apprenticeships each year. In 2008, we dragged ourselves into the twenty-first century and tried advertising on a radio station, which, incidentally, I am too old to listen to. The upshot of that was that we received over 600 applications.
In 2009, we advertised as usual in one of the major newspapers and on the radio again. We received over 900 applications. Therefore, there is still massive interest in apprenticeships. Of those 900 applications, we discounted around 150 for different reasons; some people had applied twice, for example. There are 750 live applications. At present, those applicants are undergoing tests.
We write to all post-primary schools and colleges in Northern Ireland to alert principals and careers teachers to our vacancies before they are advertised. I have included some points to describe our ongoing programme of support for schools. However, they do not actually do justice to the sort of work that two people who report directly to me, Tony Monaghan and Howard McIlwaine, do in primary and secondary schools.
Our submission details examples of some of the things that they do, including providing work-experience placements, careers talks, attending regionally-organised careers fairs in schools, and organising competitions to try to inspire young people, at both primary and secondary level, to consider our type of industry. Most young people respond to flight; they are fascinated by it. We have developed a range of materials; a number of years ago we produced a CD-ROM, which we circulated to all primary, secondary and third-level schools and colleges in Northern Ireland. It contained activities that teachers could use to teach relevant subjects. They were not teaching just about flight; they were using flight and our industry to help teach English, maths, history, geography and so on. A major part of our work is about trying to ensure that young people know about our industry and are enthused to consider Bombardier as a place of employment.
The principal idea behind Bombardier’s recruitment process is to identify candidates, not only with the necessary qualifications, but with the necessary qualities to join us and be successful with us. The first stage of that process involves the use of aptitude tests that are compiled by a consultancy firm and are based on English, maths, mechanical aptitude and spatial awareness. That is the shortlisting stage. We then invite those who have scored above a certain mark to interview, and, with 40 vacancies, we will probably interview roughly four or five applicants for each vacancy — possibly more, it depends on where we see a suitable cut-off line, following the aptitude tests.
The interview process has a standard format. We are conscious of the anti-discrimination legislation and the way in which we have to treat individuals, regardless of their race, disability, age, or whatever. A range of documents must be completed by each interviewer for each candidate. There is a fully documented process to ensure that people are treated fairly, but, more significantly, that we are sure that we are identifying the best possible people.
Later in the presentation there will be a reference to the Education and Training Inspectorate report, which records that our company has more than a 90% success rate and retention rate. That can be traced back to the quality of the recruitment process.
Candidates are ranked in order, from the top-scoring candidates down. We can go down that list as far as is needed. Young people who apply may decide to go back to school, may get other careers, or may simply change their minds. There is no issue with that; they can apply again the following year if they wish. The point is that we take the applications in rank order until the requisite number of vacancies is filled. All of the people involved in the recruitment and selection processes are trained in interviewing techniques, and are briefed in the relevant company policies and the relevant legislation. We do not let loose people who do not know what they are doing.
I have some photographs that I was unable to send by email; I will distribute them among members. I know that the initial plan was for the Committee to be given a tour of the Interpoint facility, but I have brought some photographs of the facility, to give members an idea of what it is like. It is a fully equipped workplace and training facility.
As Rory said, the photograph shows the workshop where the apprentices spend their first year, as well as one of the instructors and some of the apprentices. It is a fully dedicated facility, the ground floor of which is used exclusively for the apprentice workshop, classrooms and so on.
I will briefly outline the training programme. It is a modern apprenticeship programme, which is similar to that in other companies. Some of the practical skills that we teach are a bit different. I will go through this part of the submission briefly, because we use processes similar to those employed by other companies that provide modern apprenticeships.
The three-year modular programme combines study for a technical certificate that is required by modern apprentices who must have the required practical skills. Apprentices must complete logbooks of the work that they do as part of a detailed programme and gain a technical certificate. Therefore, they study for a technical certificate and carry out practical work in a process that has been developed over a long time and that is used by us and other companies.
After a certain period — two years for a City and Guilds or four years for a BTEC/Higher National Certificate (HNC) — the following happens. Our craft apprentices, who are destined for the shop floor, do the basic City and Guilds technical certificate before undertaking further training that leads typically to an HNC. As Rory mentioned, 30% or 40% of our apprentices end up in engineering management or operations management. Many of our factory managers came through craft apprenticeships before doing their City and Guilds, HNDs and degrees, all of which were funded by the company. That is the career route.
A technical apprenticeship is a four-year programme with a minimum attainment of the HND. Those apprentices do three years’ practical training followed by a fourth year to gain their HND. They also tend to move on in the company. I do not want to relate the process word-by-word, but that should give the Committee a feel for what is involved.
Apprentices spend the first year with us at Interpoint, emerging with an NVQ level 2, which rises to level 3 after a further two years. That is standard for modern apprenticeships. To recap, apprentices attain the City and Guilds or BTEC; the development of knowledge and skills to level 2 and level 3; and it takes three years to reach level 3. All first-year apprentices are based at Interpoint. I am not sure whether the Committee wants me to go into the detail of the programme, but, as I said at the start, it is fairly well developed.
We work very much in conjunction with the Engineering Training Council. Any company with an apprenticeship programme has a range of different business-dependent modules that their apprentices can undertake. We have chosen mainly aeronautical-engineering-oriented modules, but we also have mechanical-engineering modules and so on. Therefore, there is a bit of both, and it is all overseen by the Engineering Training Council based at Interpoint, where they rent premises from Bombardier. David Hatton and now Bill Brown of the council are based there.
Pretty much all second-year apprentices spend their time on the shop floor. Young engineers still need to understand how factories work. We try to employ people close to where they live, but they move work location every three months. Typically, a second year apprentice will have four moves in his or her second year. As Rory explained, work at the composite facilities is totally different from that on the main factory assembly line, which remains predominately metalwork. We try to give apprentices a good grasp of how the whole company works.
Third-year craft trainees remain on the shop floor. Ultimately, they will be the craftsmen of the future and will stay in the area to which they are assigned. Engineers will join a technical department within which they will rotate. The company has quite a large number of engineers. I am not sure of the exact figure, but it is well in excess of 1,000. Therefore, those people will move around five or six distinct engineering functions. There is reference in our submission to “Design, Stress, Methods”, which are different engineering departments.
I have touched upon the fact that a technical certificate is a mandatory part of a modern apprenticeship. We work in conjunction with Belfast Metropolitan College, essentially because we have worked with it for many years. The college is centrally located and our apprentices tend to come from greater Belfast. Some come from further afield —Ballymena, Downpatrick and other areas — but, predominantly, they come from greater Belfast. We have talked to other colleges that are keen to work with us. At present, however, the logistics of getting to specific college sites such as Lisburn and Bangor are poor. Young people tend not to drive in the first few years of an apprenticeship and organising transport can be a headache.
As I said, the framework is developed in conjunction with the Engineering Training Council. Any modern apprenticeship depends on the field that the person is in, whether it is engineering, hairdressing or catering. It is a bit like baking a cake; there is a whole list of ingredients and one must pick the ones that suit. The Engineering Training Council agrees that list and oversees engineering apprenticeships, but it does not oversee catering or hairdressing apprenticeships.
Basically, our accredited instructors train apprentices and then sign them off. An independent person who works for the company signs off on all the work and training. The Engineering Training Council also overviews that and carries out the audits. It is a similar process to that which is used by other businesses in other walks of life.
Workshops are pretty boring places. I worked in one 42 years ago, so I can say that. Rory mentioned that I had been through the programme. In some ways the programme has changed a lot, and in other ways it has not changed at all. Basics are basics — if you were to learn to swim today, you would still use the same technique that people used 40 years ago. Students still have to go through the basics.
The programme can be a bit boring and can involve long days, so we try to introduce other activities that take place outside the workshop. The students go to Belfast Metropolitan College for one day a week. They spend time in the workshop at the Interpoint building and attend classes. We try to bring in various people, such as our vice presidents, to break the programme up and make it a bit more interesting.
Rory mentioned the leadership team in the company — or maybe he did not, perhaps I am stealing a bit of his thunder. The current senior management team comprises 12 or 13 people, four or five of whom started off as apprentices. Those people come along to the classes to talk to the apprentices. I hope that you understand that not every apprentice wants to be a manager, but things can change as the years progress.
Health and safety is a big issue, particularly in our industry. We cannot pull an aircraft over to one side and park it if there is a problem. From day one, we instil that in the students. As Rory mentioned my background is in quality assurance, which is also very important. Lean manufacturing is a fairly modern process whereby we try to create efficient activities. Some of you might be aware of that.
As regards business improvement techniques, we work through different manuals and exercises and set hands-on tasks. Bombardier Aerospace is probably the only company in Northern Ireland that has a dedicated facility and, certainly, dedicated staff for training apprentices. Since Government training centres no longer exist, Bombardier Aerospace is certainly the only company that has a large facility. I cannot remember the square footage, but it is large. Some of you might have been there.
We currently have six full-time accredited instructors who sign off on the work that apprentices do. I am the training manager, and another person deals with the administration. When apprentices finish their training at the Interpoint building, we follow and track them through their second and third years to ensure that the programme that they follow is NVQ-compliant. Therefore, we do not simply pass apprentices on at the end of their first year; we are involved in a three-year process. In fact, young engineers are monitored for four years. Therefore, we are not simply managing the 80 apprentices that we currently train, or the 40 whom we will train next year, but the other students who have continued their training elsewhere.
I do not mean to steal Rory’s thunder again, we also have a number people — mostly adults — who have worked in the company for many years and who are now being upskilled from semi-skilled to skilled status. Currently, 80 to 90 people are being upskilled, with another 80 or 90 to follow. We will talk about that in a while.
Rory spoke about a recruitment programme that we run in west Belfast. Our main recruitment programme requires apprentices to have minimum qualifications, such as GCSEs. We also run another programme that does not require students to have any academic qualifications. We recruit a number of people onto that programme every year. In order to complete a modern apprenticeship, those people must complete a certificate in essential skills, with which some of you may not be familiar. An essential skills certificate is the equivalent of being trained to GCSE standard in English and maths. A modern apprenticeship, therefore, involves obtaining a technical certificate, a practical certificate, as well as an essential skills certificate, if appropriate.
There is also pastoral-care provision. We work predominantly with young people, although a few older people are currently coming through for assessment and may ultimately be invited for interview. Since new legislation came into force last September, there has been no age restriction. In the last couple of years, we have trained a few people aged 24 or 25, and now we train people of any age.
Apprentices are also involved in outreach activities and community projects. The 80 apprentices who are currently with us went up Divis Mountain and helped to lay out paths and so on. We tend to take our apprentices away on team-building activities, but 80 is a large number of people; it is basically two busloads. We try to break the course up, take them out and get them involved in community projects. In the past, apprentices have helped to paint homes and so on to try to help the local community.
Rory talked about the ETI. Like other companies, we have to complete a very detailed report every year of certain minimum requirements. On that basis, the ETI comes in periodically and undertakes audits or assessments. We were graded as 1, which is outstanding. It probably helps that we have the only dedicated facility, but we like to think that the training that we provide is cutting edge. Currently, other people in the aerospace industry and in Bombardier are assessing ways to do things better. The ETI summarised Bombardier’s training as outstanding.
Our strengths include the commitment of training staff, who provide excellent training. We are unique in providing facilities and resources. Other strengths include self-evaluation, improvement, planning processes and standards of skills and technical analysis. That is all standard stuff. We are very proud of our staff retention. Unlike many other training organisations, people seamlessly move into a job at the end of their three-year apprenticeship. That has been the case since I have been with the company. That is pretty unique in Northern Ireland. Our retention rate is about 95% or 96%, so most people seamlessly move into employment. Unfortunately, there are issues every year with one or two trainees, but that is inevitable, given the large numbers that we employ.
The upskilling programme is a training programme that we developed internally for semi-skilled employees — primarily riveters — to progress to skilled status. Early last year, it was discussed with the trade unions, and we launched it in March of last year. The first group of individuals will finish their first period of training in September 2009. Thereafter, they will have to carry out skilled tasks on the shop floor: they cannot simply go back to being riveters because, in order to fulfil the requirements of a modern apprenticeship, they have to carry out, and be assessed doing, skilled work on the shop floor.
That mirrors the current apprentice training programme that is primarily for young people who come into the organisation. Those individuals also study for a City and Guilds qualification at Belfast Metropolitan College. They receive a lot of support from the college and its lecturing staff. As in the case of the other apprenticeship programme, the Engineering Training Council oversees the whole process and awards the certificates. As Stephen mentioned, we have our own internal verification process, but it has to be covered by the external process through the Engineering Training Council.
About 70 people are currently on the programme. As I said, the first group is due to finish the first phase in September. There is one group each day from Monday to Thursday, because the Interpoint Centre is quite busy with our ordinary apprentices. In the autumn, they will all move into the second phase of their training. We have plans — although we may have to put them on hold, given our current circumstances — for other cohorts to undertake that training.
We developed the Engineering Skills for Industry programme in conjunction with Montupet, Ryobi and FG Wilson, in the wake of reports from the West Belfast Task Force and Greater Shankill Task Force. The programme is not limited to people who live in those areas, but that is where it originated. Bombardier is the main sponsor and pays the salary of the programme director through Business in the Community. It is run in genuine partnership with Springvale Learning, Impact Training, Belfast Metropolitan College and local employment agencies.
Much work had to be done to reassure people that they could embark on the programme and come out with something worthwhile at the end of it. The Belfast Metropolitan College has provided a lot of support, and the guy who has been in charge of the programme for the past six years, Harry McGonigle, is Bombardier’s former training manager. He took voluntary redundancy about six years ago, and, just last week, I found out that, out of 8,000 or 9,000 lecturers across Northern Ireland, Harry had been declared the lecturer of the year. That is a tremendous accolade for him, and the award was based specifically on his work on that programme.
Last week, Harry gave me figures for the programme: 171 have people completed the programme, 157 of whom have moved on employment. The largest number went to FG Wilson. When Bombardier embarked on the programme, it was not recruiting and did not, therefore, receive any benefit. The 24 people who have been employed by us, after having completed the programme, started over the past 18 months to two years. I mentioned some of the other organisations, so that members will be aware that the programme is not confined to the organisations that were instrumental in setting it up. The point of the programme is to give people skills. They do not emerge as fully skilled craftsmen and craftswomen, but they are taught basic engineering and manufacturing skills that can be translated into different places of employment. At present, 20 people are enrolled on the programme.
The second picture that we have handed to members is of a jig. Bombardier Belfast is building the wing for the CSeries aircraft. Stephen has more technical knowledge about that. He will briefly explain the picture and what it means to the company.
The computer-generated image is, essentially, of part of the wing, the manufacturing of which represents the go-forward position for Bombardier Belfast. It is extremely advanced technology for the new aircraft that will go into service in 2014. Bombardier will build the wings for it exclusively. As I mentioned, the aircraft is roughly the same size as an easyJet Boeing 737 or an Airbus A320. The image shows part of the aircraft’s wing, which is made totally of plastic.
Rory mentioned Fokker, and Bombardier supplied Fokker with wings for between 20 and 25 years. Each Fokker wing comprised thousands of parts: bolts, little angles and machine parts, sheet metal parts, and so forth. I cannot remember exactly how many parts there were, but there were several thousand.
In contrast, the wing for the new aircraft will comprise large plastic parts, manufactured in an autoclave that was mentioned. Modern technology means that significantly fewer, extremely complicated parts are made. The thousands of little brackets, and so forth, that were used previously, are all integrated into the new design. A new wing, therefore, comprises only a few parts, albeit they are sophisticated and extremely large.
Part of the inner wing bolts on to the fuselage, and another bit attaches at the smaller end, which points upward. Members may have seen that on some modern aircraft. Its purpose is to keep the airflow over the wing when aircraft are landing at slow speeds, and so forth. It is pretty dull stuff, but that part makes life a bit easier for pilots. I hope that I have given the Committee some idea of part of the assembly of the CSeries.
Members probably know from newspaper coverage that we are building a totally new facility to make the CSeries wings. It will be based in Queen’s Island, and all the technology will be new and based on techniques that we have been working on for the past four or five years. Our procedures for dealing with composite materials are ahead of those many aerospace manufacturers.
To conclude, I will share some of our views on apprenticeships. I hope that we have impressed on members our belief that it is good for Northern Ireland, not just for Bombardier, to have a workforce that has a range of higher skills. In no way is that view intended to criticise other types of apprenticeships or to imply that some are less valid than ours. There will always be a need for lots of different jobs here, in the service sector and elsewhere. However, Bombardier Belfast took a conscious decision to move to higher-value-added products and services.
Bombardier Aerospace’s head office in Montreal has certain primary goals. The one that Belfast developed for itself, and which added to those primary goals, was to do with higher-value-added products and services. In practice, that means that we are committed to providing a full design, manufacturing and after-sales facility for the products that we make. We know that in pure manufacturing terms we cannot hope to compete with the emerging nations. Therefore, we have to offer something different, something extra. That full range of design, manufacturing and after-sales services is designed to make us a more worthwhile part of Bombardier Aerospace and of Northern Ireland in general.
We mentioned the number of managers who have come through our training programmes. That has been important for the organisation’s succession planning. That is not to say that we do not employ people from outside — we do. However, it is critical that we “grow our own” and know that they understand our engineering and manufacturing processes, and can develop the necessary behaviours for dealing with people and being part of a successful organisation.
One does not have to go too far in Northern Ireland to find someone who either works for Bombardier — or Shorts, as some people still call it — or has a relative or friends who work there. That is a mark of the size of the organisation. However, many of our people have gone on to work in other organisations and have made a valuable contribution to them.
The experience of our workforce contributes greatly to the local economy. In our submission, we mention the value of contracts that Bombardier has awarded to its suppliers. Although we use suppliers from outside Northern Ireland, many Northern Ireland firms are on our preferred supplier list. It is significant for us that we have maintained those links with people in the local economy. We estimate that our salaries put approximately £130 million a year into the local economy, where people buy their fridges, freezers, cars and houses.
The Government and the Assembly must continue to support and promote apprenticeships. That is not a criticism; there are many new industries, such as IT, that many young people find more attractive. From talking to young people and conducting surveys, we know that we are in competition with those new industries and that we are regarded as being old hat. That is often because people are not aware of the high-tech nature of the work that we are engaged in. The pictures that we included in our presentation are computer-generated images, but the wing design and the associated composites manufacturing processes also require us to develop additional skills alongside the basic skills that are still valid. The component that is pictured in the photograph is worth approximately £250,000. If someone makes a mess of that equipment, it is not the same as damaging a £40 metal bracket. We are engaged in serious work, and the behaviours that we inculcate in our workforce are different from those that might occur in other places.
I do not criticise the education sector: it is there to do a job, which is to produce people who have qualifications. However, we would like it to put a bit more emphasis on other routes to careers. Unfortunately, although league tables seem to have fallen out of fashion in recent years, schools still want to be able to say that they have x number of passes at grades A to C at GCSE or A level.
Much of our work focuses on asking schools to present apprenticeships as a viable alternative. We do not say that everyone must come to us, but that people should recognise that there may be benefits. They can come to our organisations, get skills training, be paid and get a qualification, without getting into the severe student debt that young people who spend three or four years in university tend to acquire. They will also be further up the career ladder than those who have gone to university.
Recently, here and in GB, announcements have been made about additional support to try to ensure that young people are able to finish their apprenticeships. Although there is no question of Bombardier stopping people who are currently in the middle of training, I am sure that other organisations will tell you that they will have difficulty in allowing young people to finish their training in the present economic climate. That will have an impact on us. With our larger intake in 2008, we will, potentially, have 300 redundancies from our permanent workforce. We hope to cover most, if not all, of them by way of voluntary redundancies. However, if we do not, we may need to make some people redundant. Questions will be asked about our apprentices. We want to protect them and to ensure that, at the very least, they finish their apprenticeships.
A particular concern of ours is mentioned on page 14 of our submission. In some other apprenticeships — I am not saying all of them — young people do some productive work during their first year. In our case, as you have heard from Stephen, our first-year apprentices are in full-time training. They do not contribute at all. I am aware that this will sound selfish, but we want greater support for organisations, such as ours, in which first-year apprentices do not add to production.
I have referred already to the support that is needed for organisations to ensure that apprentices complete their training. Announcements have been made across the water about funding. Last week, an announcement was made about funding to help SMEs to ensure that their current apprentices finish their training. I assure you that the following is not a whinge; however, our conservative estimate is that it costs us around £2 million each year to run our apprenticeship programme. The money that we get from grants, and so on, is in the region of £500,000. That includes further-education costs, which have doubled for us in recent years.
Finally, the main point that I want to leave you with is that, as we all know, you do not get something for nothing. We are happy to invest. We do not look for Government or anyone else to pay everything for us, because we know that we are looking after our own vested interests. However, it is important that employers are given any support that is available to create and maintain high-value jobs in Northern Ireland and to secure a greater future for us all. Thank you for your time.
Thank you very much for your comprehensive presentation. You mentioned an on-site tour. We have not been able to schedule that as yet. However, we will get around to it. Some Committee staff visited and were impressed. We will try to factor in that visit in the near future.
It is an open invitation. We will do all that we can to accommodate you.
Thank you. Earlier, we had a presentation from young people who are involved in apprenticeships. A joined-up approach between schools, colleges and businesses seems to be lacking. In your submission, you mention that you are involved in careers talks and that you send letters to principals and careers teachers. That must be commended. It strikes me that, if possible, it might be useful to include MLAs, because we are a conduit in constituencies and through our involvement in the community and voluntary sector. If we are aware of opportunities, we can then feed some of that in. I am aware of the good work that is being done by the West Belfast Partnership Board, and some of the stuff that has come out of the West Belfast and Greater Shankill task forces. I think that you should be using MLAs to promote the programme as well.
When you write to schools about careers talks, is there much take-up on that? Is there something that we can do to encourage the Education Committee here to look at such issues? It is crucial that you are in at that level.
I have another point on the issue of the industry-led demand on wings and such, and the way in which the world is moving. First, is there a possibility that there will be job losses, given that you mentioned the amount of equipment and pieces that were required in the manufacture of wings previously? Do you change your apprenticeship courses regularly to meet needs based on the changes in the industry?
We used to do around 30 to 50 careers talks in different schools. We noticed a fall-off in that as schools found it harder to get the time to get groups of young people together. Over the past two or three years, we have developed a programme called Your Career in Aerospace. Working in conjunction with W5 — and sometimes the Folk and Transport Museum — we organise events where schools are invited to bring along a number of students. We hold the talks the lecture hall at W5. I am not sure how many people it holds, but it has been packed on occasion.
Our education officer Tony Monaghan talks about the apprenticeship schemes at those events. We bring in an engineer from the company and a couple of apprentices who talk to the young people about their experiences. The apprentices are more relevant to the students than someone like me. We have developed that programme over the past three years to try to get more direct information to schools.
We are trying to find different ways of inspiring young people. The competitions that we organise follow the same lines. The work in the summer schools mostly involves primary- and secondary-school pupils. Those are all elements that, as I said earlier, I could have taken two hours to go through.
I hope that I have answered your question about careers, but we are open to any suggestions that will help us to get into more schools. No school has slammed the door shut on us. Some find it difficult to work with us as much as they would like to, because of other curricular activities and demands on teachers, but we get a great reception in schools.
Bombardier Belfast had to tender to Bombardier Montreal for work on the CSeries. We are not given anything as a right just because we have “Bombardier” in our name. We won the contract to make the wings against external competition. We thought that we might have got the fuselage contract as well, but we got the wings, which are the high-tech element. They are what get the aircraft off the ground. I do not want to do down the work that we have done for many years, but making the fuselage is like making big tin cans, I am told; the wings are the hard part.
The CSeries, which is due to be flying by 2013, will sustain around 800 or 900 jobs. We do not anticipate any job losses in relation to that. In fact, our engineering function is working flat out on the design of the CSeries. Although some people may take voluntary redundancy, it is highly unlikely that there will be any compulsory redundancies in the engineering function.
As regards tailoring the training, Stephen and I are part of a larger working group in the company. It comprises facilities engineering — facilities engineers are instrumental in helping to build the facility — and methods engineering. We are working on a programme to train existing employees to be able to be involved in the manufacture of CSeries aircraft. One of the tasks that we have outlined in our timeline over the next 12 months is to identify what new skills we need to impart to our apprentices during their training programme. Not all the apprentices will go into CSeries manufacture, but we must ensure that we have a group of young people who are fully skilled and who have the right behaviours to move into that line of work. We are responding to the needs of the organisation and have identified future needs.
You are welcome, Mr Galway and Mr Snowdon. I wish that every apprentice in Northern Ireland received the standard of training that you provide. Bombardier Aerospace’s training programmes must be the example against which every other company aims to benchmark. You indicated your desire for improved support for first-year apprentices who are engaged in full-time training and not in production activities. I presume that you mean that you want more financial support from DEL?
To put it bluntly, yes.
Will you say a few more words about that?
There are staged payments under the new Training for Success programme. People have to achieve certain standards and pass certain milestones, and we are not criticising that at all. Under the old Jobskills programme, money was handed out after a certain periods, regardless of whether the people had achieved certain standards.
As I have said, we are not criticising Training for Success, but our point is that the staged payments are all the same. In their first year, our apprentices are in full-time training and do not contribute to production in any way. We request that the staged payments be increased in the first year. In the second year, apprentices are on the shop floor and contribute to production. We are really talking about the first-year payments.
You are essentially asking for the training to be front-loaded financially.
That would help us.
Thank you very much for the presentation, Rory and Stephen. You mentioned carbon fibre. I have worked in a further-education college, and there has been a lot of talk over the years that, when they go out into the world of work, apprentices forget some of the things that they learned at college. The basics stay the same for a joiner, for example, but a lot of other things change.
Your situation is different because you are training apprentices that will move onto your production line. However, given that your workshops are very much metal-based, how do you ensure that people are able to carry out jobs that are not metal-based? Thousands of people are being trained in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects in other countries; are we well placed to take that up? Given the carbon fibre technology, aluminium may become redundant in the next few years.
About three or four weeks ago, I spoke to Airbus in Bristol about its apprenticeships in general and specifically about adult apprenticeships. Adults are being trained at Interpoint as well as young people. In some ways, we are restricted in what we can do in apprenticeship programmes. There are health-and-safety restrictions on the carbon-fibre materials, because they require toxic adhesives and so on. We can do some stuff, but there is quite a lot that we cannot do.
We are always benchmarking to see what we can do to improve. We like to think that we are fairly cutting-edge on the technological front. We talk to other companies, such as Airbus, and there is generally an open door with our competitors in that regard. There is a certain amount of information sharing.
We like to think that our training process is cutting edge. For example, the employees in the Dunmurry and Newtownabbey plants, who are essentially doing semi-skilled work, are also trained. In the last couple of years Bombardier has trained around 900 to 1,000 people — local people and people from further afield. A lot of those people have been through the Interpoint facility, and have received training in metals. If there is a requirement for training on carbon fibres, we will provide training in those advanced composites.
That is the future; metal aeroplanes will disappear over time. I am sure that that will be the case for Bombardier. We have spoken a lot about the CSeries, which will be the big thing for Bombardier over the next few years, but the next generation of Bombardier business jets will no longer be metal, they will be made from carbon fibre.
That will impact on apprenticeships. The training undertaken at Belfast Metropolitan College is metal-based.
It will change. We work with that college, and it does offer some training in carbon fibre. There is a certain amount of learning to be done. I am also involved with the University of Ulster. There is a lot of discussion going on about what we can do. We like to think that the people who work for us have the necessary skills. We do whatever we need to do; we are not perfect, but we constantly change things.
The fundamental skills of our skilled employees will not change. As Stephen said, a lot of the work involved in composite lay-up and so on is semi-skilled work. That will probably not change. As I understand it, the thickness of the composite materials used for the CSeries wings will change. We normally work with widths of around one eighth of an inch — I still speak in old money — whereas the new components will be of a different width. They will have to be joined together, sometimes with other carbon pieces, sometimes with metal pieces. Slightly different skills will have to be developed in that respect, but the fundamental skills will not change dramatically.
A question was asked about STEM subjects. We did not go into that in specific detail, but a craft apprentice will need to have two GCSEs or equivalent, at a minimum of grade C, in English language and maths. A technician engineer will need four GCSEs, at a minimum of grade C, in English language, maths, and either physics or double award science, or the equivalent, plus one other subject. We are conscious of the development of STEM subjects. Tony Monaghan has recently proposed to make the contents of the CD-ROM that I mentioned earlier available on the website.
All of the education boards are appointing STEM subject advisers, and we are going to tap into those individuals to make sure that the items included on our work programme are STEM related, as well as curriculum related. That proposal was made by Tony Monaghan; I found it on my desk yesterday.
You are very welcome, gentlemen. Thank you for your detailed presentation. You said that after you advertised on the radio, you had 750 applications, and this year you need around 40 trainees. Do you interview every one of those applicants? It seems like a lot of people to interview.
No, the aptitude tests are used as a shortlisting mechanism. When we examine the scores in the four tests we can set a threshold mark, and applicants who score above that mark will be called for interview, whether there are 150 or 200. We can determine that threshold.
Bombardier employs 5,300 people in Northern Ireland, is that correct?
Given the size of the total workforce, 40 apprenticeships seems quite a small number. I would have thought that even the natural wastage would amount to that number each year. Considering that quite a lot of cost is incurred for each apprentice in the first year, would better Government aid enable Bombardier to take on more apprentices? Would that be an option?
Possibly. Our recruitment target last year was 80 apprentices. We got 78. In fact, we made 80 offers. One person turned us down late in the process, and another did not turn up on the first day, so 78 apprentices started. The planned intake for this year and next year was 60, but that was dropped to 40 because of the economic environment.
I would love to say that more Government support would enable Bombardier to take on more apprentices. However, we must take account of the needs of the company’s departments year by year. That is a conversation that Stephen has every January. As advertisements are planned, we talk to the vice-presidents in charge of operations, George Dodds and Michael Watty, and to the various engineering departments about how many people are needed. We are committed to maintaining recruitment at 40, unless something really falls apart. If business increases, we will respond by increasing our intake.
There is a certain restriction on numbers, because, as we mentioned, we have 70 to 80 adults going through a training programme. We have a quarter of those every day, and another group of 90 will come on board in September. Interpoint is quite a big facility, but we are relatively restricted because, as I have mentioned, we also train the people whom we brought in, and that requires a balancing operation. We will be moving out of Interpoint in the next year or two, but, at present, we are a bit landlocked there.
I believe that the ground floor that we use at Interpoint is more than 30,000 sq ft. We are looking for something at least that size, wherever we end up.
On behalf of the Committee, I thank you for your presentation and very comprehensive document, which was quite useful. Credit where credit is due, a lot of good points are emerging from Bombardier apprenticeships. The Committee will try to facilitate a site meeting soon, so that members will see the programme at first hand. Thanks, once again.
I will feed that information to the relevant people in resources and send letters to MLAs informing them of apprenticeships. I thank the Committee for its time.