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Gen-Zeal: The eager desire of a new generation of engineers

Richard Spears

PP Champions & Advocates

Campaign series

A healthy culture thrives on an engaged workforce, and one comfortable to voice opinions. Opinions matter. Opinions from all walks of working life will bring about positive change and improvement. But how often do we see the opinions and ideas of industry’s younger generations rise to the surface? How often is their character and personality championed?

Three budding engineers at different stages of their careers with PP Control & Automation recently took part in a questionnaire designed to draw out their personal points of view on experiences to date, and the future of the business. Now not all questions were as serious as that – some were simply just for fun – offering up scenarios that put them on the spot and make for more entertaining responses. But perhaps these questions actually say a lot about their character…

From where to invest large sums of money, to what to name the office dog, we’ve put these young engineers to the test, and had some fun along the way. First though, let’s get introduced to the participants.

The participants

James Sutor

Production Engineer

Electrical/Electronic Engineering HNC & L4 NVQ achieved through PP C&A apprenticeship scheme.

Marcus Wesson

Production Engineer

Electrical/Electronic Engineering HNC & L4 NVQ achieved through PP C&A apprenticeship scheme.

Sophie Young

Apprentice Electrical Production Engineer

One year into a four and half year PP C&A apprenticeship, working towards Electrical/Electronic Engineering HNC & Degree level.

Big money decisions

What would our team of young engineers do with £1m?

With the opportunity to inject a cool £1m fund, the team looked at a variety of ways that different areas of the business could benefit from the investment. But what was clear in all responses, was good intentions. Let’s break down those responses now.

James and Sophie were both aligned in their intentions to invest in people, including even more training and facilities, plus upskilling and recruitment drives. All would go a long way in tackling industry-wide challenges around bridging skills gaps, keeping up employee engagement, and finding and retaining the best talent.

Recent figures released by the British Chambers of Commerce, however, show the pressure on firms struggling to recruit staff remains at record high levels. Firms reported a broad range of issues which contributed to the overall recruitment squeeze.

In an increasingly tight labour market, competition for skills is ramping up wage costs, leaving many firms unable to recruit the people they need. When combined with the escalating price of energy, shipping, raw materials, and other costs, it is a precarious situation for businesses.

Gen-Zeal: The eager desire of a new generation of engineers » IMG 0710 » PP Control & Automation
L-R: James Sutor, Sophie Young & Marcus Wesson

Would an injection of serious cash in all areas of recruitment and training be a viable way to overcome a national challenge?

Marcus looked at what investment in new equipment and automation can offer. It would be a safe investment if past experiences are anything to go by and it would improve efficiencies and speed and increase the overall production capabilities of the business.

A quarter of that suggested £1m spend was invested in new equipment recently when PP C&A introduced a world-first technology that processes cables at over 5 metres per second, making the process 20% faster compared to the capability of previously utilised machines.

This particular investment was a serious commitment to automation and underlined the importance it plays in making PP C&A’s manufacturing processes as productive as possible.

When a business is seeking strong growth both in the UK and further afield, the only way you can be successful is to embrace the latest technology and employ and develop the best talent in the industry.

With that said, Sophie considered a compromise:

“Perhaps that £1m could be split between investing in both the best technology and the best people, to ensure competitive advantage and be in pole position to exceed our growth ambitions.”

Furry friend

Several research studies have shown that the presence of a dog in the office can bring significant benefits to the health and performance of employees, which could help to increase productivity and the efficiency of many companies.

So, focusing on the pros and not some of the obvious cons like pooch-proofing the office furniture and putting up with marking territory as their own, we put a ‘what if’ scenario in front of our three engineers…

HR People Partner, Malcolm has decided that the wellbeing of the staff would benefit from a furry friend in the office and has given you the responsibility of naming it. What name do you give to the new PP C&A office dog?

James pointed out that you can never have enough Ian’s at PP C&A. First there was Ian Knight, Haverly and Derricott… Now, Ian the dog.

Sophie, meanwhile, was obviously alert to the idea of a pooch becoming a pest, naming it Shredder because “He would probably eat all the important stuff.”

Gen-Zeal: The eager desire of a new generation of engineers » PP Dog bowls mock uo » PP Control & Automation
Imagine the mess!

Marcus’ response seems to be unearthing a childhood dream, choosing to name the pet after his favourite Pokémon, a videogame franchise on Nintendo consoles.

Psyduck resembles a yellow platypus with a vacant stare, has a small tuft of black hair at the top of its head and walks on its hind legs. It has powerful psychic abilities.

Ok, if the office dog is anything like the famous Pokémon, then perhaps this whole thing was a mistake. At least Marcus will always have his now infamous desktop background to fall back on.

Moving swiftly on…

Gen-Zeal: The eager desire of a new generation of engineers » puppy monitor wesson desktop » PP Control & Automation

New markets and new opportunities

All of our engineers responded to the next question with common considerations for sustainability and the environment. They were asked which new market sector they would target as the most likely to bring in business best suited to the company’s capabilities.

Electrification and hydrogen power were responses shared by all participants. Back in 2019, PP C&A became one of the first participants of the Ready 4 Electrification Programme run by WMG, at the University of Warwick. Information gained during the Programme was used to successfully secure work for two customers involved in niche vehicle manufacture, supplying electrical box builds and cable assemblies, as well as using design for manufacturing experience to support standardisation to reduce variety and complexity.

The team have picked up on the opportunity this market can offer. There is such a groundswell of movement towards reducing emissions in the automotive sector that the opportunity isn’t just vast, but of the now.

Batteries, motors, and power electronics are key disciplines for UK manufacturers to master and improve, but it’s EV infrastructure that they don’t want to see go under the radar. This space, according to Marcus, is ideal for a strategic outsourcing partner like PP C&A:

“Charging electric vehicles and fleets is big business and commercial EV sales are on an upward trajectory in an attempt to fall in line with government initiatives and an unwavering emphasis on cleaner mobility.

“A wide range of machinery is required to meet the demands of the transport industry and its infrastructure both now and throughout its future development. Makers will face time to market challenges that successful outsourcing partnerships can help deliver, not to mention things like managing associated supply chains to mitigate risk.”

Gen-Zeal: The eager desire of a new generation of engineers » IMG 0718 edit » PP Control & Automation

The team also pointed to the PP+ initiative which is designed to support both start-ups and scale-ups by providing access to a network of key partners in engineering and design, academia, legislation, marketing, and investment needs and pathways. Support that could be the difference between success and failure for markets focused on clean energy.

James picks up on the opportunity:

“Many manufacturers in the EV and hydrogen power markets are businesses with innovative new technology and it is businesses such as these that PP+ was designed to support.

Machine builders with innovation-driven growth strategies will require assistance and guidance on multiple levels before taking advantage of their window of opportunity. These businesses can access that support quickly thanks to our ecosystem of specialist partners. It’s already having an impact in several markets.”

A sense of pride and achievement

Our young engineers are consistently achieving great things. In just the past couple of weeks, Sophie has been named as a finalist in the first ‘Ladder for the Black Country Apprenticeship Awards’ and both James and Marcus picked up their Electrical/Electronic Engineering HNC & L4 NVQ certificates.

Between them all, their list of achievements is long, but we’ve asked them to select a personal proudest moment.

For James, it was a moment during the second year of his apprenticeship, when he beat off competition from across the West Midlands to secure a major honour at the 2018 In-Comm Training Awards. James was “Highly Commended” in the ‘Learner of the Year – Engineering & Manufacturing Technologies’ category and after collecting the award he was quoted in a press release saying:

“In 5 years-time, I hope to be a competent electrical engineer and, in a position, where others feel like they can come to me for information and guidance.”

Safe to say, James has reached that milestone earlier than expected and his recent qualifications are proof. Well done James!

Gen-Zeal: The eager desire of a new generation of engineers » IMG 0715 edit » PP Control & Automation

Marcus looks back on his involvement in a particular project, and one which had a very important emphasis placed on it. In April 2020, PP C&A joined the UK’s push to manufacture more ventilators for the NHS.

Marcus was named as one of the engineers responsible for working alongside a customer to produce more than 25,000 electrical harnesses for use by the VentilatorChallengeUK, with assemblies being delivered daily to keep up with demand.

Alongside his colleagues, Marcus responded immediately, agreeing to work over the Easter weekend and across multiple shifts to ensure urgent lead times were met. Like so many, Marcus was keen to help frontline staff in any way possible:

“To think that the harnesses we produced were quickly going into ventilators being delivered to the NHS and playing a small part in saving lives is a very proud moment for me and one I won’t forget.”

Despite just being one year into her apprenticeship, Sophie can count several excellent achievements. Being named as a finalist in the upcoming ‘Ladder for the Black Country Apprenticeship Awards’ is one thing, but she has also showed initiative and intuition beyond her years. In fact, in her first full project, Sophie created a full 3D assembly drawing pack, electrical schematics, and volunteered to build the first iteration of the assembly to prove out her documentation. With assistance from the Continuous Improvement department, Sophie managed to cut out one hour of build time by identifying a more efficient method.

The assembly now takes 2.5 hours, which has allowed 100 units to be manufactured this year. 400 units are scheduled for build in 2023, shipping both nationally and internationally. This, along with a product for the same customer, will generate a significant profit for the business, all thanks to Sophie’s intuition and recognition for a more efficient way of doing things.

Sophie’s skills have developed at speed and never come into question. These skills are recognised company-wide but for Sophie, it’s also recognition from her colleagues on how she lives the values which give her a great sense of pride:

“Having people comment on my growth since joining the company, not only in skills and ability, but also in how I demonstrate core values really spurs me on.

“What attracted me initially to the company was the core values. They care about the kind of people they have working here and even during my interview I felt welcomed, and they cared about my development throughout.”

One snack to survive a whole career

One thing all people at PP C&A benefit from is a luxury of sweet and savoury snacks dispensed from four vending machines in the canteen, a shared space where not just comforting snacks are provided, but also TV and a pool table that often becomes a place of ‘friendly’ competition. And one of these days Marcus, will be beaten!

But what of those snacks? If our engineers had to pick just one to last them an entire career with the organisation, what would come out on top and what does their choice say about them?

Gen-Zeal: The eager desire of a new generation of engineers » IMG 0727 » PP Control & Automation
Playing for Flapjacks

James was obviously thinking about survival in the truest sense with his choice of flapjacks. These things are so big you would survive quite comfortably stranded on a desert island for a month with just one or two! Perhaps James’ strategic thinking here is a sign of things to come.

Marcus opted for pork scratchings. A snack that on the face of it doesn’t seem like the healthiest choice but recent studies actually talk confidently of the health benefits. Who would have thought it? Two thirds of the fat in scratchings is beneficial to heart health and they’re high in protein and collagen.

We’re still taking all of that with a pinch of salt, or like scratchings, should that be a lot of salt?! Either way, Marcus obviously knows where his roots lie and is a young man of tradition. The pork scratching is a delicacy founded in the West Midlands, the heart of UK manufacturing… and fatty pub snacks. You’re welcome.

Sophie decided that indulgence was the best way to spend her breaks, opting for the Kinder Bueno. Each melt-in-the-mouth segment promises creamy hazelnut, smooth chocolate and crispy wafer. One a day doesn’t keep the doctor away, but it does make you happy.

Available soon at all good book retailers (maybe)

If our three participating engineers were asked to author a book about their experience with PP C&A so far, what would they title it?

Sophie and Marcus focused on their development, which after some of the previous responses to this questionnaire would offer quite the story. From Sophie’s display of intuition and inventiveness to Marcus’ key participation in the VentilatorChallengeUK, both books would be definite page turners and excellent material for young people interested in a career in engineering.

Sophie’s ‘The making of an engineer’ and Marcus’ ‘The evolution of Wessy’ might need a couple more years before publication but we’re keen to get reading.

James was thinking about the seasonal market with his title ‘PP is for life, not just for Christmas,’ and whilst we fear it could be a bargain bin addition once the festive period closes, we’re sure it’ll sell like chestnuts roasting on the fire before then. Under the surface though, James is articulating something unique about PP C&A. It’s not just a job, it’s a way of life. Feeling like you belong is an important trait that the company really values. Encouraging people to share in their successes and to offer support to fellow colleagues will always have a place in the core values. James’ book could be an insight into just that.

Culture of continuous improvement

American writer Mark Twain once said, “Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” The quote quite sophisticatedly summarises the importance of personal development and it is something that’s built into the very culture of PP C&A, so how do our young engineers plan on improving in their own disciplines?

James responded confidently in his desire to upskill and be ready for a potential new service introduction:

“I want to pursue my knowledge of 3D CAD packages. I am proficient in 3D software, however, if the company took a steer into offering panel design solutions, I would love the opportunity to explore the design side of engineering.”

Marcus meanwhile looked at further education in an area already explored during his apprenticeship:

“Improving broadly in the area of electronics would be the most immediate consideration, to formulate a greater understanding of PCBAs in particular, and link into the HNC course I completed.”

Sophie considers how self-improvement brings company-wide benefits:

“I would improve my time management. Now that I am being given a lot more responsibility throughout the department, I am learning to prioritise tasks and manage my time better. But the better I get at it, the more immediate the benefits are to my own work and the success of the projects I’m involved in.”

Gen-Zeal: The eager desire of a new generation of engineers » IMG 0667 » PP Control & Automation

Wear your heart on your short sleeve polo shirt

This question was designed with one thing in mind: Which of our young engineers is a true brand ambassador?

The team were told that Marketing Manager, Richard has asked employees to wear red PP C&A polo shirts outside of working hours to maximise brand exposure. But would they agree to participate?

Encouragingly, all three are obviously proud to wear the colours of PP C&A, but only one would happily do it for free!

Both James and Sophie would agree but only after negotiating a bonus (tut tut). But Marcus, he’s PP through and through and would happily do it for free. Top Brand Ambassador Award is all yours Marcus. Come to think of it, there was an office rumour going around that Marcus once went on a first date in full PP C&A uniform… You can’t ask for more commitment than that.

The future’s bright

It’s a classic question that most people will face at some point in their career: where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

All three engineers see themselves in senior roles. James and Marcus as senior engineers with James working towards a management role and Marcus branching out into Design for Manufacture (DFM) activities with various customers.

Similarly, Sophie pictures herself in a senior technical role, likely using all of those time management skills to drive efficiencies in all areas of technical engineering and still rolling up her sleeves to be involved in the most advanced engineering projects.

A successful apprenticeship scheme can be central to competing, thriving and growing in an ever-changing industry. One eye on the next generation of engineers is one eye on the future of the business.

PP C&A can report increases in innovation, productivity, competitiveness and even profitability thanks to its successful programmes and the direct impact of its young engineers.

Investing in future talent makes a lot of business sense. Linking skills to achieving long term business goals, attracting the right talent to fill skills gaps, and integrating and retaining apprentices within the workforce to keep driving the right culture are all crucial.

And when manufacturers give young engineers a platform, their voices are heard, and the value in that can be priceless.

If working for an award-winning provider of outsourcing solutions to many of the most successful and respected machinery builders worldwide interests you, then find out more about PP C&A apprenticeships, job opportunities and what we look out for in people.

A campaign celebrating our champions

As part of an ongoing campaign that celebrates every walk of working life at PP Control & Automation, you’ll find out what makes us, well, us!

From outsourcing champions, exemplary engineers, culture promoters and rising stars, you’ll get access to thought leadership content, individual profiles and video interviews for key leaders, engineers, and apprentices, plus blogs and Q&As, all showcasing the honest and open opinions from inside the organisation.

Come back to the blog in the coming weeks and throughout the year, follow PP Control & Automation on LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube, or by searching #PPCAchampions. For more direct access, subscribe and receive stories from the campaign in your inbox.

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