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Learning curve

September 27, 2016

Konecranes’ apprenticeship programs have allowed the company to grow its own skilled workforce of  technicians and managers, boosting their overall productivity and setting them up for life.

For a majority of businesses, their people are their best assets. These employees, after all, can elevate good companies to become great ones. As such, businesses need to take responsibility for developing these hires into individuals who will add real value not just to their operations, but to society as a whole.

Offering apprenticeships is one way that businesses can demonstrate their commitment to these assets. This system allows a company to train employees from the earliest stage and integrate them into their ethos, culture and work practices. Schemes structured around empowering apprentices are often the most successful, setting people up for the rest of their lives by allowing them access to new careers while improving their social mobility and overall productivity.

Delivering in-depth instruction

Throughout its decades-long history, Konecranes’ apprenticeship programs especially in region Americas have allowed the lifting specialists to grow its own skilled workforce. “We have been formally delivering technical training for almost 30 years and there have been many changes since then,” shares Joe Otten, Director, Konecranes Sales & Service Academy. The training includes mechanical and electrical theory, mechanical and electrical hands-on training, and crane-specific training. A range of subjects is covered – from basic terminology and advanced programmable logic controllers to automated equipment and everything in between.

Tom Sothard, Senior Advisor at Konecranes, has been with the company since 1983, serving in various capacities such as Global Service President, Head of region Americas, Senior Vice President and President of Americas.

He was responsible for the programs’ inception in 1984 and patterned this initiative after the apprenticeship scheme he had previously established for the state of Ohio in the United States, which was set up to address the skills shortage in the industry. Along with Reijo Kamula, now Global Training Manager, he tailored it to suit Konecranes’ growing needs. The overall plan was eventually divided into electrical and mechanical branches, each with four different levels and examination processes, with the aim of providing more in-depth instruction.

Addressing the shortage

“Our biggest impediment to growth is a shortage of field service technicians, so we have to continually grow them. We look for long-term employees and that involves a considerable investment,” reveals Sothard.

The topic of growth is vital to Konecranes’ apprenticeship programs, as the number of participants has swelled in pace with the boom in business. “Over the years we have expanded our capability and currently have our Advanced Training Center in Springfield, Ohio – the regional headquarters – and nine district training centers located throughout the region,” adds Otten.

Last year, the company delivered over 5,000 training days and over 50,000 technical training hours to over 1,000 student-technicians. It’s a long way from region Americas’ earliest days when, as Sothard recalls, 89 employees built cranes in factories.

The Management Development Program (MDP) has also been created to focus on nurturing future managers, an apprentice program of sorts for staff positions. “It’s a two-year program that involves both field work and office work, covering sales, operations and administration. Upon completion of the program, the MDP candidates will have been exposed to the entire service business, giving them a well-rounded understanding of how we run it,” says Otten.

Attracting the right talent

Konecranes apprentices enjoy the same rights as other employees, with real opportunities for future progression. These individuals earn while they learn. “In order to attract the right talent, we have to pay market rate for the new apprentice and increase their wages according to their development,” shares Sothard.

Otten lists the qualities they look for in an applicant. “As with most of our employees we look for people with great attributes: honesty, integrity, a strong work ethic, and willingness and ability to apply themselves and learn. We do test for basic mechanical, electrical and maintenance knowledge and ensure they maintain a clean driving record and do not have a fear of heights. We look for similar traits when it comes to our MDPs, who are typically college graduates and come from business, marketing, engineering or communication studies.”

According to Sothard, there are other attributes that an apprentice technician must possess to complement practical competencies. “Since they will be out with customers, they must be great communicators. A successful apprentice is also a selfstarter, a team player, and someone who enjoys helping people, as this is what the job is all about.

These guys are working long hours, and at times in dangerous situations, so they have to be conscious of safety.”

Reaping the benefits

Rewards in the form of professional advancement and long, fruitful careers await Konecranes trainees. By the end of the training period, these apprentices will have developed into polished technicians or capable managers who are able to go out and take care of most, if not all, of the issues they encounter.

“I believe the apprentice benefits from increasing their knowledge and experience in both the technical and management roles. Many of these skills are transferable to the general industrial world, so this is something they will have forever,” adds Otten.

Konecranes, meanwhile, gains the distinct advantage of having employees who are better equipped to do their jobs, allowing them, in turn, to take better care of customers compared to the competition. As Otten elaborates, “By investing in our employees, our customers benefit by having qualified, properly trained people take care of their equipment. This means our customers will have improved safety and productivity throughout their plant. When we keep our customers happy, we keep our customers.”

While Sothard admits that for the most part, those who come up through the apprenticeship program stay longer in Konecranes compared to those who don’t, the retention rate is above average, industry-wise. He offers a likely explanation.

“Konecranes believes in developing its employees. You’re part of a family and our objective is to make sure that you have a long, safe, successful career. We want to develop that career to the best of our ability and your ability. To me this is a huge part of our overall success.”

 

Text: Gino de la Paz
Illustration: Anton Yarkin