MGB Engineering

MGB Engineering

Andy Jones, who has a background in railway design, established and now manages MGB Engineering’s Apprentice Academy. An ambitious SME taking pioneering steps towards creating its own talent pool, MGB Engineering designs and builds electrical and electronic systems that are used predominantly on the railways but also in marine and petrochemical environments.  The bulk of MGB’s work comes from the design of railway signaling systems, which control trains on the UK’s railways. Andy describes the Plymouth-based business’s position before the Academy was set up:

“Like many UK companies in this sector, we were for a time reliant on Indian resource. Most of the UK’s signaling companies have to go to India to get designers because we don’t have enough in the UK, and of course our railways are like theirs because we were involved in building them! In this country our entire industry is still reliant on foreign resource. There aren’t enough railway signal designers in the world. Additionally, we lose people because if you hold certain qualifications, they gain your entry to countries like Australia, which also have a shortage of designers.”

Because of the challenges of recruitment, MGB Engineering’s managing director decided a few years ago that it would be prudent for the company to invest in homegrown talent, developing its own signaling engineers, despite being a relatively small business. The business already had some experience of running year long, level 2 apprenticeships in Installation with the young people involved taking day release to a local college. However, on the design side of railway signaling, learning is more complex, as Andy explains:

“As a design engineer apprentice you need to understand the entire nature of the railway and the signaling system, and learn all about CAD [Computer Aided Design] before you start designing.”

Management at MGB knew that having apprentices matched up to shadow existing designers one-on-one would be too significant a drain on productivity and resources. That’s why they arrived at the conclusion that a dedicated internal academy was the way forward, as Andy explains:

“With the Apprentice Academy, one qualified person can train up ten apprentices at a time. It’s the economy of scale and you need a dedicated person to train up the new generation of designers.”

That person is Andy himself and the people he’s training are undertake an Electrical and Electronic Engineering Apprenticeship at Levels 3 and 4. Because no training provider in the south west specifically offers a railway apprenticeship, MGB have had to be resourceful. The company’s design apprentices follow a four-year programme, which is a combination of formal, general Electrical and Electronic Engineering learning at the local college, plus industry specific training in the Apprentice Academy itself:

“The apprentices spend the first year of their apprenticeship in the Academy with me, before moving to the design office. The first year is really about familiarising them with the railways. We teach them everything from how the railways are structured from an organisational point of view, to how contracts are awarded, and how different parts of the railways are financed.”

Eventually, the apprentices begin to explore the computer aided design software they will use on the job. It is at this point that they learn about signaling and communications, which is the area of work they’ll ultimately specialise in. Although 35-year-old Andy has worked for MGB before and has had railway jobs around the globe, this is the first time he’s filled a training role.

“Our first batch of apprentices started in June 2014. We have a good mixture of people. The minimum requirement are grades C or above in GSCE English, Maths and Science. Those qualifications secure a place on the college course, which they must have before we can offer them an apprenticeship here at MGB.”

Additionally, some of the apprentices begin already holding A Level or equivalent qualifications, while others qualify as mature apprentices. The oldest in the current cohort is 42 and preparing to embrace a second career. For Andy, running the Academy has been a fresh and rewarding experience. He says:

“That first year, it was literally just me and the ten apprentices working together in a room. That was probably one of the most enjoyable years of my working life. It brought out real camaraderie. When you’ve got a room full of young people there’s a really positive and fun atmosphere.”


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