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Liebherr Managing Director, Ralph Saelzer, was full of praise for the University of Sunderland when discussing the benefits of his employees studying a degree apprenticeship. Liebherr is a manufacturing plant for Maritime Cranes and cargo handling equipment including; ship and part cranes, offshore cranes and mobile harbour cranes.

Liebherr have often used the University of Sunderland as a platform to help upskill staff through the University's Degree Apprenticeships, and now Sälzer's workforce are reaping the rewards. Three staff are currently on the Leadership and Management Degree Apprenticeship Programme.

Saelzer said: "It gives them a once in a lifetime opportunity to go for a great course which we probably wouldn't have thought about beforehand, so it opens up opportunities. One apprentice came from a supervisory background, so this gave him a tool to really efficiently lead his team. For another apprentice (who works in the quality department) it was one of the steps to be taken to become the manager." This apprentice will be promoted to QA Head of Department in September. "For us, of course, we are not sending anybody and everybody on the course. They are selected people who we think are either potential leaders or existing ones. It fits both sides really nicely. We can see when we put them on the course, they will get good opportunities. The degree apprenticeship is absolutely brilliant."

The crane manufacturer took over the former Deptford Shipyard in 1988. They have been in operation in Sunderland for over 30 years. In 2014, Liebherr had 186 employees and 29 apprentices in their workforce, which supported skilled training and education in the region. Six years later, Liebherr have 190 employees and 27 apprentices plus our degree apprentices. It isn't just on a local scale where the family-run business has continued to grow – Liebherr had 39,000 staff, across more than 130 companies with an $8.96 billion turnover (2014). At the end of 2019, Liebherr had 48,000 employees with an impressive €11.75 billion turnover.

The University of Sunderland has always held numerous consultation meetings in the development of apprenticeships, with employers' input always at the heart of these discussions. Saelzer said: "You get listened to. You don’t have the feeling that they only want to be in touch just for the sake of it, so there is a real influence on the curriculum when we have our meeting. The plans get changed according to the employer's input, so what you bring forward always has an impact."

Saelzer also had some words of wisdom for any employer considering using their levy for higher or degree apprenticeships: “Just do it. It’s there to be taken, and even if the levy is not sufficient to cover the cost, the government are still covering 95% of the cost. I think it’s a very good tool."

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