MAN offers entry point to heavy-duty engineering

MAN’s workshop technician scheme gives apprentices a valuable entry into the world of heavy-duty maintenance and engineering. By Steve Banner

Heavy commercial vehicle workshops are suffering from a severe lack of qualified technicians. One way of addressing this shortfall, at least in the long term, is for them to grow their own talent by recruiting and training apprentices. It’s an approach taken by all the major truck manufacturers through their own bespoke schemes.

MAN has 120 to 150 apprentices on its three-year programme at any one time, says director of people and culture, Catherine Brown. As such, it has renewed its focus on ensuring it delivers.

This revamp has involved recruiting Poppy Wolfarth as early careers business partner to run the scheme. Although Wolfarth has never worked in a truck dealership, she is otherwise well-qualified to fill the role.

Wolfarth left school when she was 16, becoming a business apprentice. She joined Liverpool-based Asset Training and Consultancy, which specialises in the delivery of apprenticeships. She then became interested in how such programmes work and the benefits they bring.

Next for Wolfarth was a stint at the Charity Commission as learning and development co-ordinator, before moving to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She joined MAN last year and remains a member of the National Society of Apprentices leadership team. “Apprenticeships are a great passion of mine and it concerns me that young people are not always given the correct advice and guidance,” she observes.

Training provider Remit Training plays a key role in the MAN scheme. Among other things, this involvement includes reaching out to schools regularly, pre-screening individuals who have expressed an interest in what MAN has to offer, then passing suitable candidates over to MAN for a face-to-face interview.

At this point, the individuals concerned start to get a better idea of what becoming a Level 3 apprentice heavy vehicle service and maintenance technician will entail – and whether it is a career that will suit them. “Bear in mind that some of them may never have set foot in a truck dealership,” says Wolfarth.


MAN is not excessively proscriptive about the qualifications it expects prospective apprentices to hold. “We do ask for Level 2 Maths and English however, and we require them to sit a mechanical engineering paper so we can get an idea of how much basic knowledge they have,” Brown says. While many of the apprentices are school leavers, a high percentage are 19- to 21-year-olds who have already had some experience of life.

The backgrounds of apprentices can vary, with some drawn to the course because they have become interested in truck racing. However, one who is progressing through the programme is a former professional lawnmower racer. “We’ve got two others who were brought up on farms and liked to tinker with vehicles,” reveals Brown.

The scheme requires apprentices to spend a total of 18 weeks over the three years at Remit’s college in Derby and the rest of their time learning on the job in a dealer’s workshop. MAN is conscious that teenagers despatched to Derby may never have spent time away from home before – and their home may be at the other end of the country.

Therefore, each apprentice is allocated a trained mentor who can answer any questions they may have and allay any concerns. “They may, for instance, want to know a bit more about what the college course entails and how they get to Derby – but may be too shy to ask the college itself,” says Brown. The apprentices stay in a local hotel and are bussed to and from the college – and Remit and MAN keep a close eye on their welfare. “Remit organises speakers who will come in during the evening to talk to them about financial planning and managing their money,” says Brown. “In addition, police representatives talk to them about driving and the risks posed by drugs and alcohol.”

MAN’s training course has been devised in conjunction with IfATE, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education. It works with employers to develop, approve, review and revise apprenticeships and technical qualifications – and Wolfarth is an IfATE apprentice panel member. “Some 85% of apprentices complete our course and our dealers manage to retain them thereafter,” she says.

“Although we haven’t got electric trucks in the UK yet, we ensure that our apprentices receive Level 3 Electric Vehicles Training,” adds Brown. To help, MAN has supplied electric versions of the TGE light commercial.

The inadequate funding of technician apprenticeships and the shortcomings of the apprenticeship levy are industry-wide issues that have been highlighted by the Road Haulage Association, Logistics UK and the Trailblazer group. Industry insiders suggest that a £5,000 gap remains between the funding available – currently set at £20,000 – and the cost of courses. The shortfall has to be covered by the manufacturer concerned.

The constraints on apprentice recruitment are not just financial, says Brown. Some dealer workshops are small – and delivering the support apprentices require is something of a challenge. “Remember that apprentices cannot be viewed as 100% productive until they are fully qualified,” she remarks.

The apprentice course goes way beyond the fundamentals of truck technology such as chassis, engine, fuels and transmissions. Students must learn how to service, inspect and maintain vehicles and trailers to the expected standard and appreciate the importance of safety inspections and maintenance schedules in order to meet the truck operator’s O licence and legal obligations.

They must also be capable of using a range of diagnostic and electrical measuring tools to identify faults, as well as understanding what is involved if they are called on to provide roadside assistance.

Interpersonal skills are not neglected. Apprentices must be able to: communicate effectively with colleagues and customers both orally and in writing; behave in accordance with the values of the company they work for, and treat customers with courtesy and respond quickly to their requirements. IfATE does not minimise the demands placed on a qualified technician. “Today’s technicians have to demonstrate expertise in the technical side of their role,” it states. “They must have strong problem-solving skills and a good grasp of the theoretical and practical aspects of vehicle systems and associated ancillaries.

“They must be able to work independently, but also operate as an effective team member, have good customer handling skills and identify ways in which they can work more efficiently.”

Only 2% of MAN’s current intake of apprentices are females, which is something Wolfarth would like to see change. She wants to encourage far greater diversity among the intake, with young people across all genders represented. While a steady stream of apprentices qualifying as technicians may end the current shortage in the future, shortfalls in the workforce have to be dealt with today.

MAN has recruited suitably qualified individuals from South Africa and has become a bronze member of the UK’s military resettlement scheme. “Furthermore, the company’s headquarters in Munich, Germany, has set up relationships with countries such as Uzbekistan and Georgia where skill levels are high, but so is unemployment,” Wolfarth says.

They, too, could be a source of experienced technicians assuming that the language barrier can be overcome. “To view apprentices as the only way of filling the gap we’re facing would be remiss of us,” Brown says. “We have to be more creative.”

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