Andrew's apprenticeship story: Life as a STEM role model

2 min read

Andrew Lufkin joined Essex-based Pacepacker Services as an apprentice engineer in 2011. Aged just 20 at the time, he liked the idea of earning while he learned without the worry of taking on soaring university debt.

Since actively seeking out the apprenticeship with Pacepacker, which designs and manufacturers bagging, robot palletising and pick and place equipment, he’s not looked back. In 2014 Andrew won the national PPMA Apprentice of the Year accolade, adding to the local Essex Business Award bestowed the previous year.

“Apprenticeships are an eye opener to the working world: it’s taught me discipline, punctuality, how to prioritise and accountability,” reflects Andrew, who regularly shares his experiences with local students when Pacepacker hosts career and STEM open days. “I wouldn’t say that I’ve missed out on going to university. As well as getting my foot on the career ladder, I’ve gained a wide range of invaluable skills and credible qualifications.”

Andrew’s job involves facilitating parts orders, managing stock in-take for machine builds, and building sub-assemblies for two of Pacepacker’s packing systems. In the last four years he has juggled the practical day-to-day work of fulfilling customer orders for automation systems with completing a one year City & Guilds level 2 certificate in Engineering (manufacturing technology), and is nearing completion of a two year level 3 course with Colchester Institute.

“The course tutoring and hands on learning have taught me the basics of engineering, which now have become second nature and will stay with me for the rest of my career,” comments Andrew. “The extended draughting skills will also stand me in good stead for a future in engineering. With several of the team approaching retirement age, I’m in a good place to help fill the skills gap and I eventually hope to mentor other young apprentices.”

Described by his assembly supervisor and mentor Robin as a “natural engineer”, Andrew also receives continuous encouragement from Pacepacker’s Managing Director Dennis Allison who is a huge advocate of on-the-job learning. “With the rise in demand for automation today and the subsequent need for an increased head count, apprenticeships offer a route to harness fresh new talent ensuring that our workforce has the practical skills and qualifications we need now and in the future,” says Dennis.

Research indicates that the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) sectors will need 160,000 engineers, scientists and technicians each year by 2020 and Andrew enjoys breaking down some of the common misconceptions about careers in the engineering and manufacturing sectors.

Teaming up with the likes of Anglia Ruskin University, the Chelmsford Engineering and Innovation Community and schools from the Colchester area, Andrew is often invited to speak to young students about the varied engineering career pathways, the types of roles in demand and run live equipment demos. “The one thing my experience has taught me is that the real world of engineering is so much more than standing over a machine. In our industry, everything starts with an idea and STEM subjects are critical to each part of the process, from designing prototype packaging robots to full scale automation installations. There’s so much innovation taking place right now and it’s an exciting field to work in.”

In addition to apprenticeships, Pacepacker offers placements for interns and graduates. The company also runs open days, often in collaboration with robotic partners Festo and FANUC, giving young people practical hands-on experiences and access to the latest design software tools.