HE’S one of the most successful football managers in history - but he started out as a tool-making apprentice in the Clyde shipyards.
And it is the debt he owes to that experience that led him to Rotherham yesterday.
Sir Alex Ferguson took time out from managing Manchester United to visit the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at the start of construction work on one of the biggest apprentice training centres the county has ever seen.
The £17.5m facility will take in about 250 people aged 16 and upwards each year for advanced apprenticeships lasting three or four years.
Sir Alex - who was late after his car broke down on the slip road off the Parkway - said: “Apprenticeships were dying five years ago. We need employers to have confidence in young people.
“Manchester United is the best example you can get. We believe in them and it’s amazing how they can surprise you.
“In my 26 years at the club the academy has made £115m from producing young players and selling them to other clubs. That’s an investment.”
Before he spoke, apprentices Jake Martin and Anthony Haw described their hi-tech training and the life skills they were learning - including talking to a packed room of 200 people.
Sir Alex said: “I came here thinking I would give you something of my experience, but I’ve learned so much in the last 20 minutes. It’s fantastic.
“This kind of thing never happened in my time as an apprentice. The life skills I was taught were severe.
“On my first day I was told to go and wait for a ball of blue gas. Half an hour later when the superintendent asked me what I was doing it was whack! ‘Get back in there!’”
As well as valuable tool-making skills, he said his apprenticeship involved him working with older men who were ‘characters’ and he became a shop steward, which was the “biggest help in terms of management.”
He also hailed the consistency of management at United where, he said, 80 per cent of staff had been there 20 years or more.
“That continuity brings consistency of thought, of philosophy, of management style. We can set long term targets and create a five-year model. I can tell you what the first team will be in five years, absolutely.”
Sir Alex’s visit came after an invite from former sports minister Richard Caborn.
Head of the AMRC, Prof Keith Ridgway said: “I’m made up he came. I think, like Manchester United, we don’t just want people with skills, we want the most talented as well.”