Apprenticeship training within the steel industry
A Sheffield Forgemasters International case study

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Page 2: Workforce planning

Sheffield Forgemasters International 17 Image 4Workforce planning is the process of establishing and meeting a company’s labour needs. It needs to take into account the skills as well as the overall number of employees required to conduct the business. It has to consider anticipated future demand as well as current needs.

SFIL faces many of the same workforce planning issues as other businesses. It needs to provide staff development, to respond to changes in its external environment and to remain ahead of the competition. SFIL also faces additional challenges due to the highly skilled and specialist nature of its work.

External influences

SFIL’s workforce planning has to take into account many factors. For example, it needs to understand the local labour market. Skilled workers may move in or out of the area. It needs to consider the wider economy. A global economic downturn may reduce demand for its products. Within this ever-changing context, SFIL needs to plan the number of workers it will need in the future. It must assess the skills that these workers will need. By forecasting these future needs of the business, it can produce a plan to ensure that it will have trained staff that can deliver what its customers want.

SFIL strives to be the best at what it does. To achieve this, the focus of its operations is on quality. It believes in continuous improvement and being a leader through innovation in developing new products and processes. So to succeed, it needs a strong skills base. As these are vital features of SFIL’s current and future growth, they must also be built into training programmes. This focus on quality is a feature of the apprenticeship programme. Kurt, a 21-year-old apprentice, says:

I completed a level 2 foundation course in engineering to give me basic skills. I now work in the furnaces, calibrating the temperature to very strict standards. This heat treatment phase is a vital part of the manufacturing process and the slightest change in temperature can affect the hardness of the metal. We supply materials to lots of different industries, including the nuclear industry, so our materials must meet the highest quality and safety standards – there is no margin for error.

Recruitment and selection

Sheffield Forgemasters International 17 Image 1Another way that SFIL drives up quality is by taking on only the best people as apprentices. In 2010 there were more than 250 applicants for just 30 apprenticeships. SFIL undertakes a pre-recruitment screening exercise to make sure only the best candidates are interviewed. This is producing results. According to the local college, the 2011 apprenticeship cohort was the best intake so far. Dan, who started in 2010, explains the process:

I started my apprenticeship after going through firstly a group interview, where everyone was really friendly, and then an individual one.’

SFIL is currently training 64 apprentices. This is just under 8% of the total workforce. This underscores SFIL’s commitment to training the next generation. It will help the company ensure that it has highly skilled workers to meet the needs of the business in the future. The apprenticeship programme has helped SFIL to improve its skills base. This is vital as it increases the company’s capacity to handle new and complex projects. Graham Honeyman says:

Apprentices have contributed to the organisation's success for many years. They are now engaged in refining work practices and control systems to improve efficiency and productivity across the operation.’

Sheffield Forgemasters International | Apprenticeship training within the steel industry