Learning from experience

A lack of access to ‘real world’ academia in polymer engineering is being tackled by Jaguar Land Rover, with Ian Ray at the automotive manufacturer championing an award-winning Training & Development Programme. Throughout 2023, this practical and distinctively innovative approach to collaborative learning has helped to engage, educate and upskill over 100 JLR product development team members. Including an extensive number of colleagues working in non-engineering functions.

Driven by the urgency to flip the development engagement model and keep JLR’s digitally-enlightened Gen Z engineers inquisitive, Ian pulled together his most trusted suppliers to design and deliver a learning programme where the syllabus draws in and upon collective experiences. Believed to be the first learning programme of its kind, Sumitomo (SHI) Demag and ENGEL UK, together with injection moulder WHS Plastics and raw material supplier Resinex, wholeheartedly backed Ian’s vision.

The reception of the JLR programme has been so positive, it culminated in the partnership winning the coveted training & development accolade at the 2023 Plastic Industry Awards.

“Our market is certainly big enough to support common goals and share insight and knowledge,” emphasises Ian. Having secured a double win at the recent PIAs, the newly-appointed Ambassador affirms that the case for strategic collaboration is stronger than ever. Especially in learning and development when the division of effort can be split between likeminded partners to deliver an engaging, mutually beneficial and complementary syllabus.

Hailing it as a “great example of a collaborative effort between JLR and their suppliers”, the PIA 2023 judges commended the impressive fact that the programme brought two direct competitors – Sumitomo (SHI) Demag and ENGEL UK – on board. Describing it as a “fantastic initiative” the judges further extolled the benefits of “using the supply chain as a training resource. These closer partnerships enabled bespoke training requirements to be addressed. Particularly noteworthy was the breadth of roles in JLR who shared the learning experience.” 


Team work makes the dream work

Each business has achieved many training successes, earning numerous accolades and endorsements to exemplify their respective efforts. Yet, the partners’ ability to work together, share expertise and collaborate on a learning venture of this magnitude is probably the most authentic example of training excellence.

A strong advocate of lifelong education and development, for JLR, this bespoke five-module strategic training partnership – covering materials, design, tooling and processing – complements its already expansive in-house training portfolio. Ian expands: “Collectively the JLR design, product and engineering teams possess a deep technical knowledge. Although we aren’t moulders, our engineering and design teams need to understand the process and have enough knowledge to confidently and competently challenge our suppliers.”

Cross-collaboration is the cornerstone of this bespoke two-tiered JLR training and development programme. Providing a brief introduction to materials, tooling and the moulding process is the one-day ‘Lite’ introductory course. More than 100 JLR colleagues from a breadth of roles have completed this element, with Ian, Justin Anstey from Resinex and Steve Hunt and Andrew Kendrick from WHS Plastics delivering the content on site at WHS Plastics.

“Developing a new plastic automotive component from start to finish takes a design, material, machine, tooling, process and a customer. All of these together cannot be supported by one entity. It was great to be part of a multi-functional team working in partnership to deliver some invaluable training to the JLR engineering teams,” reports Andrew Kendrick, Group Sales Director, WHS Plastics UK.


Collective competency

With the ’Lite’ element providing a taster for the main event, each quarter, a cohort of 16 JLR delegates complete five further ‘deeper dive’ modules. “Sharing insight with smaller groups delivers maximum impact. For several modules, the 16 delegates are split evenly into two groups and attend different facilities. For example, with Module 4 Sumitomo (SHI) Demag and ENGEL UK trained eight candidates each from their facilities, delivering an  injection moulding syllabus that was completely aligned,” affirms Ian.

JLR and Resinex delivers the content for Modules 1 and 2 – materials and design – supported by host WHS Plastics. The processor also shares its on-site tooling expertise for Module 3. Automotive Manager Justin Anstey at Resinex delivers the more advanced decorative processing syllabus for the fifth module, supported by Ian and WHS Plastics. Highlighting the important link between skills and succession, Justin comments: “This programme provides a valuable gateway to support the wider industry and build a robust talent pipeline. Given the exodus, mainly through retirement, we are planning ahead, ensuring this wealth of knowledge is being assimilated and shared with the next generation.”

On completion of the five modules, each delegate receives a JLR certificate in engineering. Attended by senior managers, line managers, lead engineers, graduates and apprentices, testament to the business demand, JLR already has an extensive waiting list for this bespoke training programme.

Having delivered training to over 500 industry colleagues at Sumitomo (SHI) Demag’s IOM3-accredited Academy, trainer Darren Vater-Hutchison further emphasises the importance of co-development.

Highlighting the tangible benefits of combined peer-led coaching, Darren expands: “High quality industry training can help to address the lack of curriculum investment and provides a more direct and immediate solution to local and national skills shortages. Given the current skills and succession crisis in polymer engineering, the profession is learning to break away from its natural reluctance to divulge processing secrets and shift to cross-disciplinary knowledge sharing. An ethos underpinned by this JLR programme.”

Nigel Baker, Managing Director of ENGEL UK concurs: “I was delighted to be able to contribute to this JLR initiative and tailor a course specific to their business needs. Such a refreshing experience to work with the other collaborators in this way.”


The progress pyramid

Highlighting that polymer processing is less about the machine, and more about understanding the process and leveraging the experience of others, Darren stresses: “One of the largest barriers to upskilling is the disconnect. Collaborative learning is ensuring customers right across our industry’s expansive supply chains have access to the full gambit of knowledge that considers the production process in its entirety – from concept to manufacturing.”

Describing intellectual capital as the skill of the age, Darren adds: “Machines might make parts. However, knowledge creates value. This value increases markedly within supply chains as knowledge moves up the scale.”

For JLR, having access to this multi-functional knowledge has already proven itself invaluable. Ian comments: “Training and Development has helped to increase staff morale and retention as team members feel valued. It is also evident in the quality of component development and ultimately results in Vehicle Products being delivered more effectively, efficiently and to even higher levels of quality. All of which benefit our automotive customers long-term.”

To-date, 32 JLR cohorts from the Product Development Business Units, predominantly the Cockpit Department have completed the main course. In 2024, the programme will be offered to the Chassis, Electronics, and Propulsion sub-divisions.

For PMMDA Chairman Dave Raine, the JLR programme illustrates how education and upskilling needs to continue evolving and deliver a joined-up professional development journey. It’s led to a number of enthusiastic and productive discussions between industry bodies, technical universities, customers and suppliers about utilising facilities like the Sumitomo (SHI) Demag Daventry Academy and Ireland facility to support virtual learning. “There’s a strong consensus that we need a level 7 course in Polymer Engineering. It’s being pushed by the likes of the Technological University of the Shannon and the Scottish Plastics & Rubber Association. I’m confident that 2024 see the introduction of  many more award-worthy bespoke and industry-led curriculum programmes.” Watch this space …