Knowledge matters, for all in lifting

12 February 2018

Two recent stories demonstrate the efforts the industry is making to build knowledge of lifting, for both apprentices and customers. Next month, in Hamburg, ESTA's wind energy summit will take place for the third time, after making impressive progress in building links with with energy firms; recently, in England, the industry successfully launched a new programme for apprentice lifting technicians.

The UK's new Trailblazer apprenticeships were developed in response to the 2012 Richards Review, which called for more employers' involvement in developing such schemes. The programme has not been an unalloyed success: some businesses have found the levy scheme hard to navigate, calling for state funding of young apprentices, and have criticised a 'one-size-fits-all' approach. Figures for the year to October 2017 show a steep decline in apprenticeships.

But, the levy scheme is familiar to the construction industry through previous approaches to training, and employers in the sector have led the way in getting a new apprenticeship programme up and running.

UK plant-owners group, the Construction Plant-hire Association, explained that the new Lifting Technician Trailblazer Apprenticeship will replace the existing Construction Civil Engineering Plant Operator (Cranes Lifting) Framework Apprenticeship.

The employer-led Trailblazer working group was headed up by Laing O’Rourke and also consisted of several crane owners and contractors, namely Ainscough, Baldwins Crane Hire Ltd, BAM Nuttall, Balfour Beatty, Bronzeshield Lifting Limited, Emerson Cranes, Skanska, Select Plant Hire, Sarens, Liebherr, and training organisation CITB.

The working group was formed in early 2014 to devise the standards and assessment plan for the Lifting Technician Apprenticeship, with the aim of integrating both crane operating skills with slinging/signalling skills to provide both the apprentice and employer with a greater scope of skills and to fully understand the lifting operations sector, preparing a pathway for the apprentice to become a crane supervisor and ultimately an appointed person.

This approach, as discussed here previously, seems to me to be key to training in the lifting industry: there should be a clear entry point to the industry, focussed on supporting skills like signalling and slinging, that familiarise apprentices with the safety and technical issues needed.

The development of the programme was no easy task. Elizabeth Astill of Laing O’Rourke said, “We’re very pleased and relieved to have received the final approval from the Institute for Apprenticeships after some three years of hard work by the working group.

"Being one of the first Trailblazer Apprenticeships to be developed meant that we had to endure constant changes to the rules whilst the custodianship for apprenticeships transferred from one government department to another during that time, but we have managed to maintain our original criteria to ensure that the apprenticeship is fit-for-purpose for the construction and allied sectors. We look forward to industry supporting this apprenticeship and making the construction and lifting sectors an attractive place for new recruits to develop a long-lasting career.”

Developing knowledge in an industry like lifting is never easy, even without having to deal with a shambolic and distracted UK government. ESTA has been working in recent years to build knowledge in a different way, between crane and transport suppliers and the wind turbine industry.

For many years, the lifting and transport sector had complained that turbine manufacturers and windfarm owners did not properly consider safe and effective lifting.

At the first ESTA wind energy summit, many of these issues were raised; at the next, the association were able to get the VDMA's relevant working group involved.

At this year's summit, speakers will include speakers from the turbine sector. I think this shows it will be a useful event for everyone involved.

Will North, Editor