Apprentice spotlight: Joe McKenna

A lifelong interest in cars and mechanics led Joe McKenna, 21, to apply for an engineering apprenticeship at ARBURG. Learning more every day, he balances the variety of his training and the job with car restoration and travel.

Employee profile

Joe McKenna grew up wanting to drive, build and restore cars. He often joined his father, a qualified mechanic, at races and classic car shows, helping him out on any job under the bonnet – from a simple oil change to full engine rebuilds. Young Joe caught the bug and it never left him.

Knowing he would have a mechanical or technical career, he also wanted to work for a good company with promotion prospects. “I have always been around cars, I’m a massive petrolhead,” says Joe. “I didn’t want to go down the mechanic route as the career progression was not clear, while engineering is a step forward from that.”

At 18 he applied for work speculatively at The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in nearby Ansty, which looked for a formal apprenticeship with several local engineering companies, some of which would be off-the-radar for many 18 year olds. ARBURG Ltd. (ARBURG) was the first company to reply to Joe’s MTC application.

Following a successful interview in September 2021, ARBURG offered Joe a three-year technical apprenticeship, and he cancelled the remaining interviews. “There were several interviews in engineering and electronics manufacturing, but ARBURG appealed to me and I said great, let’s go for it!” says Joe, now 21-years old. He completed the first year at the MTC, full-time on site, starting at ARBURG Ltd in October 2021. An ARBURG apprenticeship is typically four years, but Joe and his mentor, service engineer Alex Gall, hope to complete the course content in three. Next year, hopefully in the spring, Joe will travel to company headquarters in Lossburg, Germany, to complete 13-weeks of basic training. Every engineering and technical employee, worldwide, must complete this on-site training.

Joe took both a GCSE and A-level in Design and Technology. The A-level covered the basics of manufacturing processes – injection moulding, CNC machining, engineering design, materials, additive manufacturing and more. It was light touch but he acquired the foundation to know what to expect in a career at an injection moulding technology company. “I could tell you how the process worked and how moulding is applied in industry, but I couldn’t tell you how the machine worked.”

Because ARBURG machines span 65 years, Joe says it’s good to track the evolution of the technology from then until now, some of which you can see at ARBURG’s Warwick showroom. A feature of new machines is touch screen controls – GESTICA –  and “a lot of wiring”. As the electronics and digital aspects of moulding have become more important, does that appeal? “I was more interested in mechanics than electronics growing up but this side is becoming more appealing. So far the majority of the maintenance and repair work I’m doing is mechanical, which I pick up quickly.”

ARBURG is a premium brand in moulding and in engineering manufacturing more widely. Will an apprenticeship at ARBURG be a strong foundation for Joe’s CV? “Yes, I think ARBURG is a strong brand. Moulding is a big market but a small industry, you tend to learn who everyone is quite quickly. Assuming I complete my apprenticeship and things go well, I think I’m secure with a job in moulding for years. It’s hard to see what’s down the road, but I enjoy it at the moment.” Joe is looking forward to being fully qualified. Once a qualified apprentice has learned all the engineering disciplines, if they have the aptitude they can apply for senior engineer – and that is an option.

Digital applications, such as ALS and arburgXworld, and also greener, less energy-intensive machines, are constant themes. Being able to remotely repair or troubleshoot without needing to visit a customer is an advantage for both them and the supplier, he says. “Digital technology – it doesn’t really faze me; I grew up with digital technology. I’m yet to really use it at work in depth but I’m comfortable with it.”

When he has spare time, cars still rule for Joe

Caffeine&Machine, aka “C&M”, in Stratford-upon-Avon is a favourite haunt, a café in a large courtyard where fellow petrolheads can enjoy food and drink, compare their cars, their horsepower… and the hours of maintenance they’ve lovingly spent on them. Joe has a 37-year old Ford Escort XR3i that he and his dad fully restored last year to show off at C&M, plus there is a new one to restore on the way. Watching drag racing at Santa Pod with friends might be on the list this summer. Travel is also a passion; Joe has a Ford transit van that he converted into a camper van which he has “taken around most of the UK, bar Scotland – that’s on the list” and he plans to visit the USA with his girlfriend this year.

With a good apprenticeship underway at ARBURG, a technical brain, and lots of cars and vans to work on, life for Joe McKenna is looking good.