13 Dec The apprentice that engineers theme park rides
Last week (December 6th 2017) saw the launch of the 2018 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. It is a global £1 million prize that celebrates a ground-breaking innovation in engineering and aims to encourage younger people to enter the engineering industry.
Much of the talk around the launch has been on making the work of engineers more relevant for young people today. In the words of Lord Browne in an interview with John Humphries on the BBC
“Engineers are at the centre, between the lab and the market. They make one thing into another”
At Garmendale, we make metal into world-class theme park rides and much of the work is done by people within the team who joined as apprentices and learnt on the job with the support of the team and backed up by external education. A great example of this is the ride we launched earlier this year for Alton Towers – The Go Jetters Vroomster ride within CBeebies Land.
The Power of Apprenticeships in Engineering
The ride was designed and built by the talented in-house team over a nine-month period during 2016/17 in Garmendale’s Derbyshire factory and is the first ride to be built using the new QuadStar Ride platform.
The lead on the engineering build fell to Workshop Manager Danny Law. He joined the Garmendale team 20 years ago on the first apprenticeship programme.
Danny 37, who lives in Ilkeston and now a father of three young children, was a very fresh-faced apprentice engineer when he joined back in 1997, having been introduced to the opportunity for work through one of his hairdressing Mum’s clients’.
He now leads an expanding team of dedicated engineers who make, refurbish and maintain rides for many of the biggest theme parks in the world.
Talking to Danny, I asked him what it was like to see his Go Jetters Vroomster ride at CBeebies Land in the flesh.
“This one has probably meant more to me than all of the others as my kids are the right age to enjoy it. It was a proud moment to see it running so beautifully after nine months of real painstaking graft in the workshop.”
So what has changed since you started as an apprentice?
“The biggest changes have been the certification standards for rides, now applied to all of our work. Whilst we always worked to the highest standards, advances are still being made. Everything and everyone who gets anywhere near a ride has to be certified, one way or another.
I have completed well over 20 different training courses in my time here, which has continued my education and development, my latest training having been just 2 weeks ago. But its 20 years at a work bench that gives you the real invaluable experience.”
In the old days, says the 37 year old, we would have had to hand cut, drill and finish every single component, you could be weeks before you even get to the fabrication stage. Now with CAD systems for drawing and Laser Cutting technology we can have components cut to size, far quicker and needing far less finishing.
It does mean there is far less grunt work, but also means we can produce things more quickly so our customers push for tighter deadlines; it is technically possible to produce things much faster. It’s not easy work and you do get your hands dirty but it’s very rewarding.”
So what are the jobs that have stuck in your mind over these last 20 years?
“The first one I remember was a battery powered train for a hotel in Rhodes. Looking back, I was a very small player in the overall team – although it never felt like that – but it struck me how international the business was and that what we were making was being sent all over the world.
We also played a big part in what was classed as New Wembley Stadium. It started as some small fabrications for additional on-site steelwork, but grew and grew; We ended up being there for 13 months. My biggest highlight during that time and being a huge football fan was meeting England players David Beckham and Wayne Rooney. I was even walking through the corridor one day weighed down with tool boxes and who opened the door for me but Trevor Brooking. Not bad for a lad from Ilkeston!
Speaking of a small town in Derbyshire you wouldn’t believe what has been designed manufactured and taken from our factory. Several years ago we produced new carriages for Snowdon Mountain Railway, four wasn’t enough they came back for two more – this time vintage. It was a huge project for a little firm in Derbyshire, but another one that I have been on as a passenger with my kids.
We spent years on site working on the London Eye, installing new safety systems, gates and generally maintaining the structure. It’s amazing to think I walked into Garmendale off the street looking for a job, yet ended up working on some of the biggest landmarks in Britain. It’s a big thing for me looking back at it.”
So after all this time, do you have any regrets?
“Only one to be honest. I wish I’d taken more photos of my work. It was different back then. Lads like me didn’t have cameras. It’s easy now with phones and digital cameras although I can’t share the images until the time is right but, back then it just wasn’t done. To be able to look back at some of my older work now would be amazing”
“We’re working on rides for New York and Abu Dhabi and there’s more in the pipeline, so it’s going to be a busy few years for the whole team.”
Why the industry needs apprentices
The success of Danny and others within the team that have come through the Garmendale Apprenticeship Scheme prompted the firm to recruit two more apprentices for 2017. David Shelmerdine, Garmendale’s Managing Director and son of the founder Roy talking about the appointments said
“Danny has been a huge success story for us and he isn’t the only one, he has worked hard to gain the skills he now has. We’re proud of the opportunities we have provided and even more proud of how he has grasped them with both hands.
Mechanical and electrical engineering apprenticeships work for people who are determined to work hard and learn. The rewards come with time, but the satisfaction of making rides and machines that people love is a huge one”