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Upskilled workforce contributes to companys turnaround

Sheffield company at forefront of apprenticeship drive

A Sheffield based engineering company that has survived near closure and flood damages of £16m recently announced another major intake of apprentices as a part of the Government’s bid to encourage work-based training in the UK.

Dr.Graham Honeyman, chief executive, Forgemasters International Limited revealed the record number of apprentices, almost 10% of the company’s work-force, to David Lammy, Skills Minister when he toured the companys headquarters.

Mr. Lammy is at the centre of a Government initiative to increase apprenticeships to 500,000 by 2012 in the UK. He says:

“Sheffield Forgemasters is a good example of how having a workforce with the right skills can not only help a company survive adversity, but also thrive and have a successful business. I am urging more employers to follow their example and develop apprenticeships through their Sector Skill Councils. Yorkshire is experiencing some serious skills challenges that are hindering the region’s productivity and economic future. Employers need to realise that, by upskilling their workforce, they will experience significant business benefits.”

The Sector Skills Development Agency has revealed that Yorkshire and Humberside have only 26% of their work-force educated to degree level.

Although Mr. Peter Birtles, SFIL director speaks highly of the commitment of his existing staffs, he expresses his concerns about the longevity of their success. He believes apprentice training forms a key part of the company’s succession planning strategy to ensure skills for future.

Mr. Honeyman, who rescued the company from going bust through a successful management buy-out, explains:

“We had to move pretty quickly so that our older, experienced workers could teach their skills to young people before they retired. Simply taking youngsters from college or poaching them from other firms wasn”t the answer. We needed to train our own apprentices to work on equipment, technology and business unique to us.”

The company’s bigwigs indicate that the recruitment of younger apprentices has already reduced the average age of workforce from 49 to 41.

Mr. Honeyman states that Semta, the Sector Skills Council for science, engineering and manufacturing technologies in the UK and its subsidiary body, MetSkill have helped him strategising training programmes for the apprentices. This will enable them to gain future qualifications like NVQs and progress to more specialised skills through the BTEC, City and Guilds qualifications combined with a work-based skills programme.

He makes it clear that SFIL must have a highly skilled workforce against global competitors like China and India who can easily undercut them in labour costs.

Rinku Chatterjee

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