TWO of Sheffield’s leading steel manufacturers welcomed members of the Government to meet young trainees on apprenticeship programmes.
Sheffield Hallam MP and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg called in at Firth Rixson, at Meadowhall, and further education and skills minister John Hayes met members of Forgemasters’ award-winning training scheme.
The events took place to mark National Apprentice Week.
Mr Clegg met some of the 50 apprentices at the Firth Rixson site, one of Sheffield’s oldest steelworks which dates back to Victorian times and produces items ranging from aerospace shafts to hydraulic equipment and mine supports.
The Government is keen to promote apprenticeships as a way to increase skills and reduce youth unemployment. Extra money poured into the programme has seen a 50 per cent growth in the number of placements in Sheffield last year.
Firth Rixson HR director Alison Bettac said: “We have 50 apprentices, 12 of whom are in their first year and we have older workers who are studying for degrees.
“We have been running apprenticeships for years but ramped it up three years ago with the launch of the Firth Rixson academy.
“We receive Government funding for training costs and, as a large company, have the structure to organise the scheme.
“But I think small and medium firms could do with more support to create apprenticeship positions, both financially and in terms of expertise in running them.
Mr Clegg said: “I’m very proud of the fact that not least because the Lib Dems are in Government, we are expanding apprenticeships.
“I recognise there are issues, particularly for smaller firms, about bureaucracy and form-filling and we are reviewing that.
“In addition, from April, there will be a £1,500 subsidy to companies for taking on an apprentice.”
Mr Hayes spoke to some of the 70 young people on Forgemasters’ scheme to find out more about their experiences.
Then he was taken on a tour of the company’s Brightside Lane site.
Forgemasters’ managing director Graham Honeyman said: “We place a high importance on apprenticeships and we were happy to demonstrate how we offer our apprentices a great opportunity to pursue rewarding careers in engineering.
“Our forge operations director Gareth Barker started at the company as an apprentice at the age of 19 and is now a divisional director - a perfect example of the success of our scheme.”
Mr Hayes said: “These apprentices are immersed in a programme that will provide them with lifelong skills and invaluable experience.
“Sheffield Forgemasters has achieved worldwide success, and investing in a new generation of trainees will help them drive even more growth in this vital sector.”