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Grow your own engineers

28 April 2023

Following the announcement that Bob Pratt, engineering systems training specialist at Becketts Foods, had won a Mentor Recognition Award from MGTS, for his role in developing the next generation of engineers for the food industry, Suzanne Gill wanted to find out more.

Bob Pratt has built up his engineering expertise across a variety of industry sectors, starting out as an electronics engineering apprentice. His next move was into the mining sector, which required him to go back to college for a further two years to add mining electronics to his list of qualifications, in line with the requirements of the now defunct National Coal Board. He spent 11 years working in mines before moving into the textiles sector to maintain electronically-controlled machinery. 

His first step into the food sector was for Mission Foods, when it set up a new factory in Coventry. He stayed there for 15 years, working his way up to plant engineering manager, before making a move to Becketts Foods where he remains today.

“Since I was an apprentice, the complexity of technology has changed somewhat. I had to move from valve control into transistors and then to microchips,” said Bob. “When I started out we were taught how to repair at component level. Today‘s apprentices are learning how to replace circuit boards. So, while the fault-finding element of engineering has changed and is no longer as complex, what the circuit boards can achieve today is more complex, so apprentices need to learn about the systems and how they work and what all the elements of a system do. Effectively, engineering apprentices today are working with a whole new set of technologies.” 

Becketts Foods, which is part of CPC Foods, understands the importance of apprentices. “We identified a shortage of good maintenance engineers,” explained Bob. “An issue which appears to be common across all sectors today – finding good engineers just keeps getting harder – which is why the business made a decision to start to train up its own talent and create engineers with the specific skillsets that we need.”

The business hopes to take on one apprentice per site per year going forwards, to ensure it has a rolling stock of new talent. To help it achieve this goal the business approached MGTS, who it knew offered a food and drinks engineering package. 

MGTS is an educational charity that first began operating in Coventry in 1965. Expansion plans in 2013 resulted in the creation of a new technical centre in Redditch to meet growing market demand for engineering apprentice training within the Worcestershire and South Birmingham area. Then, in July 2019, the organisation opened a dedicated Food & Drink Engineering Maintenance (FDEM) apprenticeship facility at the technical centre to enable it to help the food and drink industry recruit much-needed skilled engineers.

“We have adapted the standard MGTS program offering to ensure it suits our own specific requirements,” continued Bob. “Like everyone else we have to pay the Apprenticeship Levy so we may as well make good use of it. I hope the rest of the food industry is now also getting wise to the fact that it really is everyone’s job to train up new engineers with the skillsets we all need today, and in the future. 

“I worked closely with the head of engineering at Becketts Foods to pinpoint exactly what we wanted from our apprenticeship package and I developed a number of training modules to cover some very specific areas – each taking around two to three days to complete. I go to each of the sites to teach these packages myself. I have also examined what our apprentices are learning at college and have added a little more complexity into our personalised course to ensure their skillsets meet our needs,” continued Bob.

Commenting on the work that Bob has been doing with the organisation’s apprentices to date, Joe Cornes, managing director at Becketts Foods, said: “The mentoring role is so important in the training and development of our apprentices. People like Bob are the unsung heros of apprenticeships in developing the next generation of our engineers. His work within Becketts has made us all up our game by positively challenging the way we have done things in the past and changing how we work in the future.”

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