Engineering’s post recession renaissance as a key driver for the UK economy follows hard on the heels of a new-found enthusiasm for training and apprenticeships.
Companies that hadn’t taken on school leavers for years saw a burning need to train before retirements robbed them of vital skills.
With that, came a realisation that standards being set nationally for new Modern Apprenticeships fell well short of their needs. What they wanted was a modern version of traditional engineering apprenticeships, tailored, if at all possible, to the specific needs of their companies.
But, where were they to find training to the standards and with the versatility they required?
The mid-90s had seen the Conservative Government’s abolition of the Engineering Industry Training Board, whose Petre Street premises had turned out so many of the Sheffield region’s skilled engineers.
However, a fledgling phoenix had risen from the ashes of the EITB, created by a trio of former Petre Street tutors, known initially as the Strategic Training Partnership and now as Brinsworth Training.
The Sheffield Road training company has been a key partner in initiatives spearheaded by leading manufacturing businesses like Newburgh Engineering, DavyMarkham and Firth Rixson to create advanced apprenticeships that meet the modern industry’s needs.
Based in what was once the control centre, changing room and canteen for British Steel’s Templeborough Melting Shop and the medical centre for Brinsworth Strip Mills, Brinsworth Training was, for many years, one of the region’s best kept secrets.
For a long time, the company relied on its reputation to keep the business rolling in, but, following major refurbishment, including the installation of new kit four years ago, the success of the advanced apprenticeships and cuts in engineering training capabilities elsewhere, the company sees opportunities to grow.
“There is no commercial training provider like us within a 30 to 40 mile radius, says business development director Paul Reeves, who has joined the company to help it seize some of those opportunities.
“A lot have cut back and competition is limited because a lot of investment is needed for engineering training.”
Managing director Mick Crossley adds: “We have got a good reputation, but we have never said how good we are. On top of that, we are coming out of the recession. Hopefully the worst is behind us.”
Challenges remain. Government cuts are jeopardising engineering training programmes for the young unemployed, which have proved successful.
The Government is also reducing the number of training providers it is working with, favouring those with larger contracts and, while Brinsworth Training comfortably meets the criteria, it needs to keep ahead of changes.
At the same time, Mick Crossley can see a need for an underlying change in the UK’s approach to engineering training.
He says the system is archaic and needs to change with the times to take account of employers’ needs and new technologies.
“I’m not saying the basic skills are not needed, but we need to tailor them to the skills companies need because the technology has moved on so much in the last 20 years. If companies are to stay competitive they need to tailor apprenticeship programmes to their specific needs,” says Mr Crossley.
And that is another way in which Brinsworth Training is keeping ahead of the game.