Manufacturing innovation matters as much in training as technology, as Peter Jackson discovers talking to Geoff Ford and Alison Maynard
One North East manufacturing company is doing something about preparing youngsters for industry by opening a new academy.
The initiative, by aerospace and high technology industries’ parts maker Ford (Ford Aerospace Limited and Ford Component Manufacturing), is giving a first group of 12 trainees – including two females – instruction on machinery in-house, education in dedicated teaching rooms, and work experience placements.
The first cohort, which began work in September, is doing a traineeship, the precursor to an apprenticeship. Their age range is 16 to 25 but the aim in future is to take any age above that.
The mix is designed to identify talented youngsters with the ability to work in manufacturing and overcome a sector skills gap.
South Tyneside College has joined Ford in running the programme and providing training and three other engineering businesses, which – along with Ford – have opened their doors to students to provide work experience – a vital component of the academy plan.
Other partners are Haas Automation, the world’s largest CNC machine tool manufacturer, and Cromwell, a provider of cutting tools and industrial supplies, which are also supporting the Ford Engineering Academy and have provided equipment.
They will guarantee a job interview for trainees after their six months of academy training has been completed with the prospect of full time employment.
Tracing its history back to 1910, Ford Aerospace is based at Tyne Dock, South Shields, and Ford Component Manufacturing has plants at Monkton Business Park, South Tyneside, and Silverfox Way, North Shields. The academy is the brainchild of Geoff Ford, the chairman of both companies. What drove him to do it?
“There are three basic reasons,’’ he says. “The first is Ford’s need for the input of skilled people for the foreseeable future, so having an academy run here with us benefiting from the output on an annual basis of these young people comes at the right time.
“Secondly, is to have young people of the North East progress into engineering, in our case, and into manufacturing on a wider basis. I believe there are some very worthwhile careers there for young people.
“The third reason is for the general good of the North East. We are an engineering powerhouse in the UK economy but we are already feeling the effects of the skills shortage and when Nissan start to recruit their 2,000 extra people and Hitachi look for their 800 other firms will feel the pinch. “If it’s possible to replicate the Ford Engineering Academy in other boroughs throughout the North East then we will have a ready supply of skilled, trained young people on an ongoing basis, which the wider North East will clearly need.’’
All the students will learn a range of employments skills, and demonstrate, or reach, basic standards of numeracy and literacy standards. The traineeship will be five-days-a-week for six months, including the equivalent of six full weeks of work experience.
A workshop at Ford Aerospace’s Tyne Dock headquarters has been converted into a training centre and contains a range of equipment provided by key Ford suppliers and enthusiastic academy supporters Haas Automation and Cromwell on which the youngsters will train under the guidance of college lecturers. Classrooms have also been provided on site for the academic element of the course.
Great emphasis is placed on attendance, punctuality and dress and work has to be submitted to deadline. They are also taught communication skills. Haas and Cromwell have provided state-of-the-art equipment and Geoff Ford has personally set up a foundation trust to provide on-going financial support for the academy in the future.
As well as a guaranteed job interview, those coming out of the traineeship also have the opportunity to progress directly on to Level 3 college courses.
Alison Maynard, principal of South Tyneside Professional and Vocational College, said: “We got over 30 applicants for the first course. We could have offered them all a place but we had to make sure we had the right students.
“We didn’t just look at qualifications, we looked at their attitude, what they had done in the past and whether they had done work experience. One young man had actually used his pocket money to buy a lathe, which shows that dedication and interest. We had one female who has always wanted to be an engineer and did a work placement at Ford.
“It’s going very well. The first part of the course is very practical and they have absolutely loved the practical skills because back in school they do a lot of theory but don’t touch the machines and don’t do the hand skills. We do a lot of practical units and the students have asked for additional units, so they are doing more than they need to for the qualification.’’
A second cohort of trainees is expected to start early next year and the academy will train two intakes every year. The college would like to replicate the academy with other employers.
“That’s what we need, the main thing for traineeships is working with businesses and addressing the needs of industry so we really do need more businesses to come on board to develop their workforce,’’ says Maynard. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,’’ says Ford. “We are delighted to have the opportunity to go ahead with it.’’