There’s a challenge facing the UK vacuum furnace engineering market, one which extends well beyond those that 2020 has thrown at industries worldwide. It can be summarised as a shortage of skilled furnace engineers in the labour pool.
Like many companies, VFE has long recognised that the quality of its services and the technical expertise of its staff are what set it apart in the market and position it as a leader. Yet the space occupied by the vacuum engineering market is niche.
“This [shortage of skilled furnace engineers] can make the recruitment of required resource at the right skill level challenging, to say the least.”
For a company committed to helping its customers achieve perfect production and keep their businesses running, this challenge becomes two-fold. How can we help our customers to increase uptime and maintain compliance between their scheduled services? What can we do to drive the growth and success of the industry as a whole?
From the rollout of internal initiatives like employee development programmes and the launch of the VFE Training Academy to customer-facing training courses, we have taken several steps to achieve precisely that. Read on to discover what these measures look like and how they are helping our client base to better meet their customers’ needs in 2020.
Employee development programmes
In order to develop the engineering resources needed now and in the future, VFE has invested in a structured Engineering Apprenticeship Programme. At present, the scheme is supporting two master’s degrees and four MBA qualifications, with each apprenticeship geared towards the chosen engineering career path after the first year.
The Master’s Degree support programme reflects VFE’s commitment to pursuing excellence within its own business and the wider industry. Among the employees to benefit from this opportunity is Michael Jones, Head of Projects at VFE.
Michael began studying for his MBA through the University of Liverpool’s online learning platform in 2018 and is due to graduate in 2021. His studies have been fully funded by VFE and Michael says the company has provided invaluable support throughout.
“VFE, in particular our CEO, David Byrne, has been very supportive, including guiding me through the rigorous MBA entry process. Studying for an MBA has been challenging but really worthwhile. I have gained confidence and valuable business management, problem-solving and leadership skills that I use in my role at VFE to better help our customers.” Michael Jones, Head of Projects, VFE
Michael is responsible for a team of senior field project managers and a network of field engineers. Working as part of the team, he is able to apply his existing technical engineering qualifications and experience to promote successful project execution and process development.
By the end of 2021, VFE will be funding four master’s degrees covering both Business Administration and Science, with the aim to expand on this number going forward.
Training facility and Apprenticeship Scheme
In late 2019, VFE’s new Training Academy launched for VFE employees and customers alike. A key aspect of this purpose-designed facility is the promotion of internal training and development for the company’s engineers, apprentices and staff. The facility boasts a full suite of working equipment to enable real-life training scenarios for engineers while training modules cover all areas of vacuum engineering.
Depending on their role, VFE employees will have access to product and non-product related training at the Academy through a personal development programme, enabling them to achieve their full potential as part of a multi-skilled workforce. Some courses will have external accreditation, while others will be conducted by VFE’s own highly qualified personnel.
The VFE Training Centre demonstrates VFE’s ongoing intention to promote excellence within its own business and to offer a comprehensive range of industry-accredited training for the wider industry.
“VFE’s commitment to ongoing training and development means we can continue to provide the fast, hands-on service that our diverse client base expects and deserves.” Nathan Richards, Training Academy Manager
Customer training courses
As government guidelines around social distancing evolve, VFE will also be in a position to offer courses for its customers. Training modules covering all areas of vacuum engineering have already been developed to provide essential training to engineers and to ensure that the company’s extensive technical knowledge and expertise are documented for the future.
We offer courses that are specifically designed to give an introductory knowledge of vacuum furnaces and autoclaves. Each course has been developed to meet the needs of operators, maintenance engineers and apprentices. The courses cover functionality, safety, applications and are fully compliant with the requirements of Nadcap, AMS2750 E, RPS 953 and ISO 9001:2008.
In particular, courses will focus on how to improve machine utilisation and maximise productivity. Bespoke training packages will also be available. (For the list of specialist subjects available, see here.) Complementing VFE’s ServiceCare plans, the courses will help customers get the most from their machines between routine service visits.
Today’s trainees, tomorrow’s technicians
Today, the company operates a large network of multi-skilled engineers with experience in problem-solving and innovative, engineered solutions for all makes of vacuum furnaces. As a result of its ongoing focus on training in development, it is widely recognised as having the largest team of skilled engineers in Western Europe.
“We are especially proud of our apprenticeship scheme,” explains Nathan Richards, Training Academy Manager, “which is building skills for the future by giving budding engineers the opportunity to learn alongside VFE’s expert staff whilst studying for a recognised engineering qualification.”
VFE continues to be a forward-thinking company that recognises the importance of training for developing a motivated, multi-skilled workforce. We recognise that people are a company’s most valuable resource and are committed to empowering them to become an even greater asset to our business and yours, now and in the future.