How technician roles have changed

Appointed Palletline’s group fleet manager last year, Sam Loader speaks to Will Dalrymple about apprenticeships and vehicle engineering today

Palletline Logistics is a group of nine UK hauliers which run a combined fleet of nearly 500 vehicles to transport goods across the country. Of the partners, S&S, of Tonbridge, Kent and ABE of Ledbury, Herefordshire, have workshops, each employing six technicians.

Sam Loader reflects on how technicians’ roles have changed since he was an apprentice 20 years ago. “When I started, it was a physically demanding job; brute strength was needed for changing [parts]. There were no control units. [Now] those jobs have gone, and there are more computers and diagnostics, and it has become much more complex. Today, it’s about being as knowledgeable as possible and understanding systems. Where people fall down is by not staying with the technology. One thing I am hot on is continuing training. Each year we do manufacturers’ courses to stay with the technology, or you don’t have a chance.”

Loader, who joined S&S in 2007, remains a big supporter of the early stages of training, too. S&S’s apprenticeship programme consists of a three-year Level 3 qualification with block-release at IPS college of Rochester, Kent. The course has had a good track record; only one of its eight apprentices, has left the industry, he reports.

He has had a hand in this, too; his belief in the potential of one wayward former apprentice played a large part in retaining him in the business. “I had to do an improvement notice with him, which I’d never done before,” he recalls. “Perhaps I put the frighteners up him, saying ‘we can’t carry you; this is down to you.’” At the meeting, Loader asked the apprentice about what he was planning to do, if he left the apprenticeship, for employment for the next 50 years of his life. It was a lightbulb moment. “Over the weekend he had a proper think, and decided to go for it. Now he’s brilliant; he’s like a different person.”

Both of Loader’s parents were police officers, and he credits a ‘no-nonsense’ upbringing for grounding him in the world of work. “I had been given good life skills, and it’s down to a personal commitment about whether you achieve it or whether you mess about.”

He was tested at an early age; at 16, he applied to the Navy with a desire to follow his brother to become a helicopter mechanic, but there was a two-year wait to train for that popular role, so he signed up as a cook instead. Hating the experience, he returned to land, where a careers advisor suggested a heavy goods vehicle apprenticeship. Having joined a local college, all seemed well until, just after starting his second year, the college’s funding broke down, so he – alongside a dozen or so fellow apprentices in his year – were forced to leave.

The only college that would take them on would not add them to its second-year cohort, since the academic year had already begun. They faced a choice of starting over, or jumping up to the third year – and taking on the responsibility for the extra learning themselves. Extra support from his mentor at then-employer food distribution company P&H, as well as self-work at home, did the job for Loader, who passed the course. However, almost all of the others failed out.

Remaining as driven now, Loader is making a big impact purchasing vehicles, trailers, tyre and maintenance contracts for Palletline as a whole. He admits that his new role is not without challenges; the work can be stressful and tiring. But that’s not the whole story. He observes: “If you come into lots of problems, and you see them slowly resolving, I can take the positives. Each day I see the result of the little steps that we are making.”

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