Manufacturing has suffered a lot of bad press over the years, and here in the UK our politicians in all their infinite wisdom decided making things was too cost0inefficenitn to have any place in a modern economy, and instead looked to banking and service sectors to supply our GDP.

With the great recession, the emperor turned out to be naked and many discovered that finance wasn’t all it cracked up to be and now the UK government is hurriedly trying to rectify the wrongs of the past. Look to Germany, where manufacturing has been the backbone of the economy for since modern Europe came into being. It’s the largest economy in the EU, and seems to be having to hold the Eurozone together all on its own.

One thing Germany takes seriously which the UK is far behind in, and it must do better at, if it hopes to ‘rebalance the economy’ (the current government buzzword) is apprenticeships. Apprentices are an ingrained cultural institution in Germany, like they were once upon a time in the Britain. They’re slowly returning, but the process is painful.

As national apprenticeship week took place in March, LMJ went on an investigation to explore how apprentices’ resurgence was going, and how lean was helping in this. With nearly two million apprentices in the UK, they seem to be taking off, but with endless pressure from low-wage economies and emerging powers in the east, it is important the industries to be as efficient as possible. One way of doing this is to teach the young people embarking on their careers all about lean from day one.

Instead of teaching an old dog new tricks, why not teach them as they learn, the benefits of continuous improvement and LSS so they can help to make their industries as profitable and streamlined as they can.

This article includes interviews with apprentice scheme trainers at two different UK organisations, determined to help young people, as well as several apprentices at AMRC’s academy


Lean in the works:

Ian King.

Manufacturing growth lead at EEF, Ian King, discusses with the LMJ his thoughts on the organisation’s Lean training Academy, based at Aston, Birmingham.

The academy works at giving a rounded lean education to not just young people, but also manufacturers of all levels and ages, so they can learn about change and continuous improvement.

Read about:

  • Teaching lean to the next generation
  • Incorporating lean into a well-rounded education on business, management and the basics of economics
  • The EEF’s training scheme in Aston, Birmingham

LMJ: Ian, what’s you background and how did you go into coaching lean?

Ian King: I’ve worked on the academy since 2012, and before that I was freelance, working for many large companies, including healthcare and mining corporations in Australia, setting up lean academies and working with their employees. I have also worked with Airbus, BAE Systems, Triumph, Williams Formula 1, Bisley, Terex, Rockwell, Dunlop as well as many SME’s helping to implement lean organisations.


LMJ: How long has the programme been running and how long have you been involved with it?

IK: EEF have had an improvement service since 2012. And I was the first recruit. Before this they ran the Manufacturing Advisory Service in the South East for a number of years.


LMJ: Run me through the layout of the programme. What do students learn about?

IK: The lean academy is designed to be run from different client’s request as well as my past experiences in what has worked best. These type of schemes were first rolled out in North America by Ford originally.

The academy has been adopted by JLR, Airbus, BAE and JCB. A number of organisations are now using this approach.

The teaching covers a basic introduction to lean and techniques and culture and the way we learn and change behaviours. We use a blend of academic materials, such as case studies from the Harvard School of Business on companies like Toyota, Herman Miller. From there we move on to the cultural side of lean.


LMJ: How important do you think properly educating apprentices are to the future of manufacturing?

IK: It’s not just our apprenticeships, but other organisations to teach about lean.

In fact, a conversation I was having recently was about this very topic: the reason I was training at this organisation is because the current leaders sees their apprentices as the future leaders. And yet they know very little about business improvement- one of the students couldn’t relate to the fact that if something in the factory can be made more efficient it can be made more profitable.

Considering the UK/Europe has been on a continuous improvement path for over 30 years, it is quite worrying that our future leaders are not being taught about continuous improvement at even a basic level.

That’s why we are teaching our apprenticeships about leadership and improvement- the two things fundamentally missing from most training programmes. Most Further Education schemes do not have these and apprentices are not taught how to improve the business.

In terms of whether I think teaching apprentices basic book-keeping or managerial skills as a more urgent need in teaching continuous improvement? They’re both vital. Fundamental is the cost side of a business to be taught. These days, trying to find an engineer under the age of 50 who understands costing is difficult.

And when you look at companies (that I work with) they don’t understand the basic costing of the product of their manufacturing. One client I work with produces £75k per week worth of goods and they’re lucky if they make £250 profit. It’s nothing to do with 5S or kanban it’s just poor organisation modelling and product costing.

The majority of my clients are people who have done CI programmes. It’s not the operations, it’s the other areas of the business such as technical, sales, marketing, materials and the way accountants choose to costing things. For example a client I work with may cost a product to achieve 45% contribution and sales will sell at that price however when you understand the operation that contribution can be some 20% diminished due to the people in accounts and sales not understanding the operations side of the business.

LMJ: What are the plans for the training scheme in the future?

IK: The future lies in my own career path and my own apprenticeship -I gained no business acumen while I was being trained. I was taught nothing other than the manufacturing skill I was employed to do.

I was mentored as I progressed with my career and grew to understand the way things operated, I then went on and did a Beng in Management which taught me some business and how a full organisation works, doing modules that gave me the basics in all areas of business not just operations and engineering.

This exposed me to quality, purchasing, managing and a range of other topics which I’d never encountered before. Which has convinced me that I don’t think we educate our apprentices and future leaders enough. We see the need for engineers and toolmakers but we don’t give them other skills. As they progress they have no managerial skills or leaderships skill. So for me the future looks like we need a greater rounded awareness. We need at least an awareness in some of the most commonly used lean tools/ techniques

So we aim the course at everyone. The old way of recruiting a manger was by recruiting someone form the lower levels of the company and promoting up as a reward. That doesn’t always work. We often see capable engineers don’t make the best managers, so we’re trying to encourage people to engage in lean and continuous improvement and change programmes and hopefully improve their skills as a leader.


LMJ: What other aspects do you think you could add to improve lean education?

IK:  What we’re trying to do with the academy is target change leaders, and the biggest aspect for me is the mentoring and coaching one.

Retention is a massive problem. Getting to them a few hours a week so it stays in their mind. If we look at the Japanese and how they do things, their change programmes are often not just training but also coaching/mentoring in the workplace. They receive refreshed courses and new training throughout their working life. Whereas we tend to undervalue this and focus merely on the initial course and then let maintaining these new skills fall by the way side.


LMJ: Have you seen a marked difference?

IK: The more we talk about lean and do around Aston the more we’ve definitely had a marked improvement around the apprentices’ confidence and abilities. You can discuss 5S with them and they can show you examples and talk about you with it. A massive improvement from their skills when they first arrive.

This is a great difference to other places where the apprentice will have no lean skills and no vision for their or the business’s future.


Jon Radford.

Educating apprenticeships

The Advance Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) is a government catapult centre based in the north of England, associated with the University of Sheffield. The AMRC specialises in advanced machining and materials research for aerospace and other high-value manufacturing sectors.

Jon Radford is an engineering trainer and skills assessor at the Sheffield AMRC Training Centre. He chats to LMJ about the training scheme in place at the centre to teach the apprentices the benefits of lean.

Read about:

  • Getting and keeping apprentices engaged with lean
  • The benefits of getting ‘em young
  • How the scheme works and the plans for the future

Since introducing Business improvement Techniques (BIT) in April 2014, 77 apprentices have received the training with a further 40 scheduled onto BIT by the beginning of summer 2015.


LMJ: How long has AMRC had a lean training scheme?

John Radford: We first started delivering lean training in 2014 as National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) Unit 64: conducting business improvement activities, as a bolt on for technical support apprentices. They have to cover three units so we thought that would be good for this pathway.

Since then, we have now changed the units around, after my line manager, Roger Davis-Green, decided every apprentice that comes into the building should have a week’s training with me, for which they receive a certificate.

Depending on the company they work for, each apprentice at the AMRC Training Centre spends either 24 or 48 weeks learning all aspects of their trade, and the idea is they should spend at least one week with me getting the basics of lean.


LMJ: What’s your background?

JR: I started as an apprentice many years ago and spent 18 years in the aerospace industry, working for Doncasters Machined Airfoils.

I went through the ranks culminating in my becoming continuous improvement manager. The company put 10 of us from around the world through a kaizen black belt course with TBM Consultants in Derby in around 2000, so I’ve had 15 years of lean experience.

Then the company moved and I decided not to relocate with them. I moved into the automotive industry, joining a high pressure magnesium die casting company Meridian Lightweight Technologies Ltd. With my previous experience, it wasn’t long before I moved from being a supervisor to leading continuous improvement activities, providing statistical analysis and encouraging change and engagement. After the recession I decided to change careers and moved into training full time, which is how I am able to work on developing this programme for the apprentices.


LMJ: What benefits do you see to lean involved with apprentices and what does the course teach?

JR: The benefit for us is we get a chance to introduce lean and best practices before the apprentices go into their working environment, where it may not currently exist. On the other hand, if their employer has implemented lean and best practices, it won’t pose any surprises when the apprentice arrives at work on the first day and sees a 5S audit board.

The major benefit is the chance to heavily promote team working towards a common goal at an early stage.

The majority of our apprentices are on machining pathways such as manual turning and milling, we also have electrical/electronic, tech support and fab & weld apprentices.

All engineers are heavily involved with measurement. I start the week off with a measurement system capability and calibration project, culminating in a gauge R&R exercise using five separate measuring devices. By plotting graphical variation then eliminating unreliable equipment, I can easily demonstrate the importance of equipment selection and ultimately how to best achieve repeatable accuracy between operators.

We run a number of experiments where they’re encouraged to think about vernier scales, often when reading the measurement debates between operators can get quite heated.

The subjects we currently include in BIT are measurement system capability, 5S, The 8 wastes, which obviously includes a little history on Henry Ford and Taiichi Ohno, The five lean principles and, finally, a practical exercise that normally lasts for two days, where the apprentices can put the methodologies into practice. Along the journey I introduce them to basic lean tools for making improvements to processes and operations such as kanban systems and visual control so they get an overview and a basic academic knowledge.

5S helps form the basics of working in a more organised environment with everything required to hand. Eight wastes is an overview of what they are, where they are found and how we reduce them using lean tools and control measures.

The 5 lean principles help them understand on a higher level how a lean business operates. When I set them off on the practical exercise they receive relevant statistics relating to costs for running a factory and assembling the products, such as cost of purchasing the kits, energy price and usage, build time and orders for TAKT, staff costs etc. As build times are reduced profits increase but never losing sight of a safe operating environment and quality products for the customer.

We do the practical hands on using models; it’s basically a Lego seaplane kit, which they try to build to TAKT Time. Customer orders are set by me and often change depending on how well the group is progressing. Using 5S principles and lean methods they run trials then implement changes to improve their process efficiencies, learning about flow and push/pull systems along the way.

Most of the apprentices are between 16-20 years old, I run the practical by splitting the group into two teams normally four or five per team. They have a competitive streak so we find this a really good way of keeping things engaging and stimulating especially as the final challenge is to build three kits simultaneously in the factories they have designed. The best visual controls and lean assembly lines in place always achieve the best results. Our current record stands at 79 seconds for all three planes using four operators, not bad considering there’s 85 pieces in each kit.

On the last day of training we go for a tour of all current AMRC facilities, these being The Factory of the Future, Integrated Manufacturing Group, Nuclear AMRC, Composite Centre and The Design Prototype and Test Centre. The apprentices get to see best practices within a practical environment at first-hand. Innovative ways of manufacture combined with the very best technology is what the AMRC is about.


LMJ: What skills do you see the apprentices learning from the scheme?

JR: It’s great to see the lightbulb come on in their eyes. By learning about lean in a fun way, they’re really able to see the benefits; linking the industrial side to the lean framework and the more academic, classroom sided elements, and the connection comes when I take them on to the factory floors around the AMRC sites. It’s a good start for them to learn to work in a tidy manner and keep what they need at hand. You can see, before they’ve done the course, they have everything out of the workbench drawers, because they haven’t thought about what they need.

Whereas I operate a two tool rule – only two tools allowed out of the box at any one time, to minimise clutter and mess.

There are lots of other examples: linking modular builds. They don’t realise they don’t need to build the whole thing. The kits really help set them off on the right foot in a fun way.

The scheme is in its infancy and I’d like to see how these apprentices have developed in the workplace. I’ve collected feedback forms from them, and it’s all positive so far and all have said they enjoy it but I want to see how they carry on with it once they’re back in their workshops and factories. It’s all about encouraging them.


LMJ: Do you think there are other or more things to be done to teach lean?

JR: Interestingly, I’ve trialled a practical exercise on our factory floor. We were going to supply aluminium dice to Las Vegas. It got them thinking about orientations, there are so many permutations, different combinations and ways of doing things, and it really had them engaged in the planning aspects. It was very much geared towards an industrial environment using workshop tools and machinery during production and they were learning from the mistakes they made.

We culminated with a poka-yoke box style fixture the dice slid into, with the holes pre-positioned all we did was drill through to a fixed depth stop, and that seemed to be the most valuable aspect demonstrating how a simple idea worked consistently every time: By encouraging them to think for themselves and a hands on trial and error approach they come up with half the ideas themselves.


LMJ: Where would you like to see the scheme go?

JR: I really enjoy working with the apprentices at grass roots level and our course itself, is continually improving over time by expanding on what works best to gain the understanding. We’ve also got a professional development side based at the Training Centre and they are working hard currently on introducing a lean manufacturing course for fully qualified engineers and tradespeople.

We’d also like to reintroduce Unit 64 so they get a NVQ in this and a certificate to give lean a solidified place in their view.

The course is a work in progress and I introduce new ideas and tweak elements and try my best to keep them focussed and interested.


LMJ: What benefits to manufacturing as a whole do you see this giving?

JR: UK manufacturing has to keep moving forward. In my mind the sooner apprentices are exposed to these principles the better. Obviously, lean tools and techniques are by no means new but you still see a lot of waste opportunities that only require simple fixes. We have small company apprentices’ right through to Rolls–Royce apprentices, no matter who they are working for waste is still evident and waste reduction is key to success.

Manufacturing methods are fast changing and companies have got to move forward. You don’t necessarily have to change an entire process, just look at how you’re doing it and change elements. This is not rocket science.

The students’ perspective:

Rowan Easter-Robinson, an apprentice from Darron SBO, a steel manufacturing and engineering based in Sheffield, Matt Creswick is from Toolroom Engineering Ltd, a precision engineering firm also in Sheffield and Jack Smith is an apprentice at Rolls Royce. They all underwent the training at AMRC discusses the benefits he believes the training he received. Even though the firm doesn’t have a lean programme.

Read about:

  • What the apprentices learn (in their own words)
  • The confidence and skills it gives them

LMJ: What was your knowledge of lean beforehand?

Rowan Easter-Robinson: I didn’t know anything about lean manufacturing before the course, I’ve never had any experience with it.

Jack Smith: My own personal knowledge was limited to the very basics of not wasting time. However, it was easy for me to understand and apply lean manufacturing after previously working in industry. I was able to relate the wastes and methods to my own personal experiences. I also found it interesting to learn the origins of lean manufacturing and how it helped to transform Japan into one of the most economically developed countries to date. 

Matt Creswick: Before undertaking the training I had no prior experience of lean.


LMJ: What were the main goals you were hoping to learn from the training?

RER: I first started the course with an open mind, as I had never done any work on continuous improvement or lean before, let alone being able to apply those concepts to a working environment. This meant I decided to try to get a basic knowledge of the theory but also try to put emphasis on applying these concepts to a working environment so I could understand how to work them into my experience at my own workplace.

JS: Our goals were: to understand how the 7 wastes can impact on the profitability of an industry, how to identify and overcome the 7 wastes by using the 5S’s.

MC: I was hoping to gain a greater understanding of what it meant to be lean in industry.


LMJ: Do you think you learnt practical skills from the training that will help you in your career?

RER: I certainly tried to learn practical skills, mainly so I could make my own life easier while I’m working at my company; concepts such as the 5Ss, the 8 wastes and how to reduce them, along with the 5 principles of lean to ensure continuous flow. We learnt these skills with a challenge in which we were given a set of Lego airplanes and told to assemble them in as quick a time as possible. We also had to devise the profit/loss of the factory while taking into consideration the overheads, worker wages and demand for the planes. Then we sorted out each part and placed them onto shadow boards, delegated tasks to each member to keep lead times down, and inputted all our data into an excel to optimise our times for maximum profit and number of planes produced per week.

JS: I am definitely more aware of waste in the workplace, the 5S method is something I now find myself regularly referring to going about day to day tasks, for example I can’t help but to return equipment immediately after use in an attempt to keep my workspace clear, it has other positive effects such as my co-workers no longer bother me for tools they are missing as they are always in their place.

In regards to practical skills I have learnt, I maintain a level of order to my tools and work in a tidy and well organised manner with only the tools I need. I never find myself searching for missing tools and equipment. I will continue to retain the skills I have learnt as find myself using them every day.

MC: I believe that I learnt very useful skills from the training that I will hopefully be able to implement when I’m back with my company.


2015 apprentices, pictured outside the AMRC Training Centre.

LMJ: Do you feel engaged and confident enough to begin implementing lean?

RER: I’d have to research more how these concepts would be more applicable to the workshop in my company, but I’d definitely feel confident discussing issues and possible solutions with the leader in my company.

JS: I do, and I already apply lean to myself and my own work.

MC: I feel that I now have the knowledge required to start implementing lean back in company however I feel it could be a difficult task as due to the fact that the company I work for has no prior experience of lean and I feel they could be rather set in there ways.


LMJ: Do you think projects like this are a good way to encourage people to learn about lean?

RER: Yes, definitely; this hands-on approach to lean was much more interesting and engaging than a detached presentation ever could be, all the concepts we learnt in theory were turned into reality with the practical, and we made sure we knew exactly what we were doing to make sure we beat the other team’s manufacturing techniques. I managed to cram in a lot of information which I’ll be able to recall in each small step we took as a team in reducing our manufacturing times for the Lego planes.

JS: Without a doubt, people my age have had very limited, if not non-existent, exposure to production/engineering environments, the tasks we carried out enable people to understand what not to do and what to look out for and understanding the reasons why. This will stop people from developing skills with ‘bad habits’ such as working in untidy areas and not properly storing and sorting equipment, this will of course save themselves time and effort.

MC: I believe projects like this are a great way for people to get a basic understanding of lean even if it only affects the way that individual works.