Thinking about the next generation

Automotive sector company Unipres recognises that a root and branch approach is needed for skills success.

Automotive sector company Unipres recognises that a root and branch approach is needed for skills success. The car component company Unipres is tackling potential skills shortages with a comprehensive programme to future-proof its Sunderland plant.

Japanese-owned Unipres has been operating since 1989, producing steel components for customers including Nissan, Renault and Honda at its site in Cherry Blossom Way near the Nissan plant. The company employs 1,100 at the site and has held the Investors in People standard since 1999.

The company, which reported a £182m turnover in 2014, kicked off a radical programme last year to increase the skills of the current workforce and prepare new and potential staff.
Unipres HR manager Stuart Sanderson says: “We need to think about the next generation coming through, and also to enhance the skills, of our current workforce.

“We identified the need for accelerated training and development, because we have many staff now with more than 20 years’ service.”

A successful application to the Skills Funding Agency allowed Unipres to put together a comprehensive training and development plan, which covers all parts of the Sunderland plant - and beyond. In all, 15 key areas were identified, and the company aims to address each of them by this spring.

At the heart of the scheme is the preparation of the next generation of engineers. Unipres, which is part of the national Trailblazer Apprenticeship programme developing key frameworks for industrial apprenticeships, has doubled its 2015 apprentice numbers from
10 to 20.

In addition, it is engaging with local schools through the Industrial Cadets scheme and STEMNET programme to encourage young people into engineering. Industrial Cadets is a national accreditation for pupils between 11 and 19 which takes them into engineering companies and provides an introduction to what a career in the sector entails.

Stuart Sanderson said: “We are a big organisation with a lot to offer. We’re also keen to establish links with local universities so we can incorporate graduate students as well. The company, however, is casting its net even further and is working with local community groups to help people seeking a career in the automotive industry.

Sanderson says: “We established links with the Pallion Action Group and discovered that many local people didn’t know what industry was on their doorstep.”

“We worked with recruitment agencies to support the group to get people into work and initially brought some people into plant for a tour. The boot camp at the Action Group gives prospective applicants an advantage: it gets people work-ready and as a result has been successful in getting people into work either with us or other companies.”

At the end of July, Unipres became an accredited training centre, so that eventually it can provide recognised qualifications for its own staff but also potentially bring in people from community groups. This forms part of the company’s long-term aim to set up a skills academy at the factory.

In the plant, training is being provided for operational staff, engineers and management. Each of the 75 team leaders is currently taking a Level 2 diploma in leadership management and there are plans to introduce a Level 3 management qualification for supervisors later this year.

“By taking this approach it’s helping our competitiveness and encouraging talent within the company,” says Sanderson.