Technician scheme helps keep skills on the land

One year on, a new scheme to help machinery dealers attract and retain skilled technicians is bearing fruit, as Emily Padfield explains


A little over a year ago, the Landbased Technician Accreditation (LTA) scheme was set up by machinery manufacturers and industry bodies like the Institution of Agricultural Engineers and Agricultural Engineers Association to establish a clear set of skill levels – and hence a defined career path – forthose working in the agricultural engineering sector.



“Initially, a careers project was set up to target recruitment at school and college level. But this did nothing to helptechnician retention problems and failed to provide clear career paths or professional recognition for the role of agricultural technicians,” explains John Palmer of Claas.

Technicians are expected to do 500-600 hours’ overtime each year, which compromises their lifestyles. Yes, traditionally that’s what they’ve always done, but the industry has to become more sympathetic to retain the skills needed to improve overall standards.”














Climbing the ladder – the LTA skill levels

LTA1 Apprentice: Apprenticesattending day-release or block-release courses.
LTA1 Skilled: Skilled but not professionally qualified members of staff who have gained relevant work experience over the years. They can undertake a manufacturer study programme at any time leading to LTA 2.
LTA2 Newly qualified apprentices or assessed-skilled technicians. In Claas terms, that means a service engineer responsible for service support, pre-delivery inspections and machine preparation.
LTA3: Skilled and experienced mastertechnicians. Typically, this would be a product specialist, capable of any repairs on that specific piece of equipment.
LTA4: Able to diagnose and fix faults on any piece of machinery in the manufacturer’s stable. Assessments are done yearly for this level of expertise.

“For every technician trained from apprentice level, it costs both the manufacturer and the dealer upwards of £150,000, so the last thing that is needed is for them to leave the industry,” says Mr Palmer. “There’s a definite level of loss from agriculture to the allied industries of about 20%.”


To a certain extent, the industry causes its own problem, he adds. “Throughout the industry, skilled engineers are referred to as fitters, only compounding the perception that their jobs can be done with sledgehammers and monkey wrenches.


“They’re engineers, and should be given that level of respect from customers and the rest of the industry.



“Think of LTA as a CORGI standard for the agricultural industry,” explains Mr Palmer. “But without government regulation.”



Most manufacturers nowrun programmes based on the four LTA skill levels and the underlying parameters are the same, explains Mr Palmer.The Institution of Agricultural Management runsthe scheme and Claas was one of the first to be audited at Levels 3 and 4.


Across the UK more than 2500 technicians have signed up in LTA scheme, which includes manufacturers such as John Deere, AGCO, JCB, New Holland and Case IH, as well as Honda and Knight Farm Machinery.


 








How do I get an apprenticeship?

Colleges are usually willing to sort out apprenticeships with local dealersand many are already involved with the LTA drive. So go to your local dealer and ask about the possibilities.

It’s also worth contacting the Institution of Agricultural Engineers on 01525 861096 orwww.iagre.org/.


Under the LTA scheme there are four levels of workshop skill development. The plan is that other roles within the dealer sector – like sales, administration and management – may be included too,


CASE STUDY

Jon Gowing joined Manns Agricultural Engineers as an apprentice when he was 17, after working on a large-scale contracting farm for 18 months.


He spent four years as an apprentice, studying at Writtle College in Essex on block release. Through the Claas scheme, he spent three weeks at Claas headquarters in Germany and in his fourth year spent three-and-a- half months in New Zealand working in a dealership during its busiest time.


Although back then the LTA didn’t exist, Jon has completed every stage since the scheme’s launch in 2007. He has just sat his LTA4 exam meaning that, in just nine years, he’s neared the top of the technician’s ladder. He is now a workshop foremanand has his eye on progressing further within the company.



 

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