Case Study: MJH Engineering runs successful welder training programme
MJH Engineering developed a unique in-house training programme to train skilled welders that met the businesses unique needs. The training programme was launched as a pilot in 2022 and is now currently complete with 100% success/pass rate.
The Construction sector has a chronic skills shortage which has been exacerbated further in current times. MJH Engineering has taken matters into their own hands by developing an inhouse training programme to recruit, train, and employ skilled welders.
The Accord is partnering, supporting, and working with the sector towards the big vision of a 'Thriving, fair and sustainable construction sector for a better Aotearoa New Zealand'. With construction contributing to the economy by representing 10.7% of the current workforce (302,800) year ending March 2022 and being responsible for around 6.7% of GDP ($18.1 bil) year ending March 2022, addressing the skilled labour shortage through initiatives like this and others in the sector will be an essential part of the solution and way forward.
Despite the changes to the Immigration settings, to date there remains a national, and international, skilled labour shortage in some specialised areas of the sector.
MJH Construction case study video
MJH Engineering is a well-known and respected steel fabricator in Wellington, specialising in large new commercial buildings across the Wellington Region. MJH has a steady demand for their services, but was experiencing a shortage of trained, skilled, and competent welders to meet the demand.
The company strategy includes various avenues to bring new people into the business and upskill them to be productive welders. The business holistic and long-term approach includes:
- Apprentice training
- On the job training and upskilling of workers
- Utilisation of CNC technology to improve productivity
- Immigration pathways.
Business growth was becoming seriously constrained by a shortage of skilled and certified welders, so MJH needed to quickly increase the number of competent and productive welders on the team.
Currently available training programmes can take a long time to produce productive welders, on average 6-12 months full time study, at the students cost and without full time employment. To solve the remaining skilled labour shortage, they explored local training providers and Government funded alternatives.
Some creative thinking by the HR manager led to this successful approach.
MJH made the decision to develop an in-house training programme to train skilled welders that met the businesses unique needs. The training programme was launched as a pilot in 2022 and is now currently complete with 100% success/pass rate.
To set this up, MJH asked for training and assessment material from existing industry bodies; Steel Construction NZ (SCNZ) and Heavy Engineering Research Association (HERA). These organisations were eager to support this initiative at no charge for the IP because they saw the benefits to the industry as a whole and were unable to offer this unique and immediate training required.
The material was then adapted to a full-time in-house, on the job training programme. This was initially intended and scoped as a 12-week programme with partial external funding. Unfortunately, the external funding requirements didn't match the specific needs of the business, so a business case was developed to obtain internal funding. The business case developed compacted the course duration to 6 weeks, with a further 6 months of on-the-job supervision of the trainees. This enabled a faster return on investment with trainees able to be productive skilled welders a lot quicker. The course was adjusted to ensure that the most important skills were prioritised and achieved at a competent level, these were specific technical skills in basic welding techniques that were needed immediately in the business.
The selling point for the owner of MJH to fully fund the pilot was that after 6 weeks he would potentially have trainees who could be productive for the business right away, filling the most immediate skills gap. Even under supervision they were still miles ahead of where they would be with the other training currently available.
MJH leveraged the existing business and recruitment processes to make a fit-for-purpose and viable option for the business.
MJH recruited specifically for the pilot and intentionally engaged a diverse group of potential applicants from various ages and backgrounds, including a member of their own rigging team who saw the course as a way to quickly upskill and broaden their career prospects. The business purposefully sought this mix to create a team with a good balance of skills, backgrounds, and experience in life, ensuring the culture of teamwork, mentoring, support, knowledge sharing, and skills continues to grow the capability, capacity, and productivity of the business.
MJH's recruitment process would normally include a listing on Trade Me and sharing to Facebook. With this programme being unique in both recruitment approach and delivery, they decided to add speaking at local high schools in the area to the methods used. Engagement through existing and new relationships with schools proved to be a really useful channel of promotion, as they were able to explain the programme, encourage applicants and answer questions.
The team ran this recruitment drive with no preconceived ideas or bias as to gender, experience in the industry or background. They were looking for applicants to show their passion and drive for why they wanted to be involved in the industry.
The training and on-the-job mentoring was provided by existing staff members by running a full-time training course. By including the practical aspect of full-time employment in the workshop, MJH were able to significantly shorten the time it takes for trainees to become proficient welders.
Another important part of the strategy for the success of this pilot programme was the investment of around $1.2 million for the purchase of a new CNC (Computer Numerical Control Machine)- specifically a V320 Voortman plate - a drilling and cutting machine. The CNC machinery would carry out the labour intensive and repetitive tasks that staff members would normally complete. This increased welder productivity and freed up time for the team to be focussed on the areas that required greater human skill and technique, and increased job satisfaction by removing repetitive, low value tasks.
The pilot programme completed in 2022, and the five trainees from the pilot programme are currently employed by MJH in their fabrication shop. On completion of the course the students were able to contribute as productive members of the team. Their work was monitored closely for six months as they gained experience, in addition to the normal QA processes.
After the initial six weeks on programme, the graduates received their welding ticket and then were closely mentored with ongoing training and support, each having their own workshop leading hand and reporting to a dedicated welding supervisor. The supervisor provided one-on-one training and support. The graduates are qualified with the main welding accreditations; ISO-9606.1 (an internationally recognised standard) and NZQA 30072, so the trainees could demonstrate and apply knowledge of slinging regular loads safely.
The initial pilot programme is currently under review and there is a plan to run a second programme later in 2023 or early 2024 with some improvements.
Outcomes and benefits
More proficient welders within the business in a shorter time frame.
The business recruited five trainees for the pilot programme as full-time employees. This had immediate benefits for the individuals who were able to complete a qualification and earn a full-time wage at the same time, and removed financial barriers usually faced when undertaking new study.
As a result, the business gained five proficient and skilled welders in a much shorter time frame than using traditional and currently available training methods. The programme led to increased business capacity and productivity across current and future contracts.
Bespoke training for MJH welders by MJH welders
Developing this training in-house gave management the ability to train the individuals to get the necessary certifications, knowledge, and competence in MJH’s processes, machinery, health and safety and workplace culture.
"MJH have a reputation for getting stuff done, no matter what the challenges. The team work together to find a way to overcome and work through. The business culture is partially reflected in their retention rate, which is currently sitting around 90%. Everyone buys into the projects; everyone helps get projects across the line." Jeremy Mikoz, HR Manager, MJH Engineering.
Unique employment and training opportunities for diverse individuals
In other welding courses students are required to attend full time study for 6-12 months on average, and unless they are in an apprenticeship in heavy fabrication (none exists currently for just welding) they can't work full time during the training, and don’t have a guaranteed a job at the end of the training.
MJH paid the full training costs for students, so they could attract talent from a range of ages, holding various household responsibilities and provide security during and after the training period.
One of the trainees was recruited from within MJH; he was employed as a rigger with the company and saw the opportunity to improve his own skills. Two trainees were school leavers, and two had complete career changes. The pilot programme provided a unique opportunity to blend both training and employment.
Due to the success of this pilot, the business may be looking to run another group through this programme in the second half of 2023. Next time they are hoping to find external funding opportunities that match the needs of this programme. The additional funding will allow a broader scope of training components to be added back in and allow a bit more learning time for the students, which will further improve the outcomes for all involved.
What went well?
Number of trainees accepted
Choosing five trainees was intentional, and if the business was to run this again in the future would most likely stick to that number. It was a good number for the business to train well, mentor well and supervise well, and fitted the capacity of the resources available. A larger business with more resources could accommodate more trainees.
A pathway for future training in the business and wider industry
The success of this pilot for both the employee and the business has been the evidence needed to show that there are viable solutions for SMEs to address their own skilled labour shortage by using in-house training where possible.
The theory aspect of this course highlighted areas for further training for existing welders and met a resource need for internal upskilling and professional development.
On the job support and mentoring
Providing a leading hand to each trainee and dedicated supervisor, offered rich opportunities for all involved for skill development and growth, also ensuring the success of the programme due to the hands-on practical aspects. Learning the theory, then being supported to apply those skills in a short time frame, significantly raised the capabilities of the trainees much faster.
Having resource available to use
Being able to use available resources from the industry bodies MJH approached, meant that development of training materials was easier and in line with industry standards. The ability to add the MJH unique components to this material, such as health and safety and culture and company induction material, was a key part of the success of this programme.
What were the challenges?
Timing recruitment and training with external factors
When running this again MJH would give greater consideration of timing of the recruitment phase for next course to get higher number of applicants. The pilot coincided with the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, which slightly reduced the number of applicants.
Sourcing external funding that matched the business requirements
Meeting the external funding requirements and criteria became an unexpected challenge, in particular around candidate selection. Most funding on offer included agreeing to a pre-determined criteria on who can be recruited for the program. This is a critical part of the process, and the business wanted to provide the opportunity to a wider and more diverse range of applicants than would have been possible with external funding providers available at the time. Being independently funded meant MJH could write their own recruitment criteria, better matching the diversity goals and technical needs of the business at the time.
Shortened time frame for course
Having to complete this course in a shorter time frame proved to be more challenging for the trainees, and also put more pressure on the supervisors to ensure standards were up to scratch in the shorter time frame.
What would you do differently?
Extend the duration and content of course
Although MJH was able to achieve a satisfactory outcome of 100% pass rate within the shorter training time frame, future iterations of the course may need to be longer. Additional funding would enable this to happen. A longer course time frame would still enable the welders to get the priority skill set in the 6 weeks, while additional training time would allow a broader skill set to be developed up front, and afford slightly less pressure on training outcomes.
External funding sources
MJH may look at other funding avenues in the future that will enable not only the business to maintain the recruitment standards they work with, but also to enable the training programme to include better time frames and broader outcomes.
Course availability to the wider sector
In the next iteration of this course, MJH would like to offer this training to the wider sector. They would do this by taking on the trainees as employees for 6 weeks, then upon completion of that first phase, for those that the business doesn’t have capacity to keep on as welders, offering pre-arranged employment with other partnered engineering firms in the Wellington region.