Sheffield-born tycoon’s £1m donation to boost apprentice training in South Yorkshire

A former apprentice from Darnall who made a fortune in the tech industry has donated more than £1m to a South Yorkshire training centre so more youngsters “can go on to run a company.”

Wednesday, 6th March 2019, 10:58 am
Updated Wednesday, 6th March 2019, 11:03 am
Dr Graham Siddall is putting his own money into the AMRC Training Centre.

Dr Graham Siddall grew up in a two-up-two-down with no bathroom and played on the spoil heaps of Orgreave Coking Works.

His father worked for the English Steel Corporation on Shepcote Lane and lined up a job for his son after he was knocked back for an apprenticeship at Vauxhall Motors.

Friends reunited: 1m donor Graham Siddall and schoolboy friend,Alan Wood, former Siemens plc chief executive, at the AMRC.

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But after a young Graham saw his father washing the boss’s car one day he “walked away determined to be an engineer.”

It led to a five-year mechanical engineering apprenticeship at the UK Atomic Energy Authority which opened doors to top academic qualifications, research at Stanford University in the US and a glittering career at Silicon Valley companies.

On return trips to Sheffield he would see the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at Catcliffe expanding and eventually asked to visit the site.

At its Training Centre he spoke to youngsters - including Apprentice of the Year 2018 Ben Siddall (no relation) - and was so impressed he decided to support it with his own money.

Alan Wood, former Siemens plc chief executive at the AMRC.

He said: “The people who benefit most from apprenticeships are kids from disadvantaged families. They could do what I have done and could go on to run a company. That apprenticeship changed my life.

“I was very impressed by the entrepreneurial culture at the Training Centre, it was very Silicon Valley ‘gonna make it happen’. I was also amazed at the apprentices’ autonomy.

“The most successful people I have met have a real passion for what they did. Capability and technical knowledge are important but they need to be combined with passion to be really successful.”

Now Dr Siddall is funding two annual scholarships of £5,000 each for students who have made extra effort.

And he has announced an endowment of £1m, with the intention of giving more young people the chances he had.

Dr Siddall, aged 72, was guest of honour at the AMRC Training Centre Apprentice of the Year Awards held at Sheffield University’s Firth Court.

On his return to the city he met a friend he last saw 50 years ago - but who also had a high powered career.

Alan Wood lived in Shirecliffe and both boys attended King Edwards in Broomhill.

Mr Wood, aged 71, eventually became chief executive of Siemens plc.

Refelecting on his career, he had this advice for youngsters: “Ask yourself what you want to do in life.

“Don’t rely on anyone else to come up with a route. No one else will spend so much time thinking about it as you.

“Set a goal and work backwards to work out how to get there.

“If at first it doesn’t work, have a go in another direction.

“It definitely worked for me, especially in the early years.

“At Unilever, if I felt in each job I had achieved as much as I could I spoke to my boss and said I was ready for the next stage.

“In three cases it worked. And if it didn’t I moved on. After four or five companies I joined Siemens which worked well.

“If you are following a a road map be prepared to change jobs to get to where you want to be.”

 Dr Siddall attended Phillimore Road School in Darnall and did his homework in Attercliffe Library in the evening “until they threw me out.”

After his apprenticeship he gained a degree, MSc and PhD in the UK and worked until he was awarded a Lindemann Research Fellowship to the United States where he joined the team at Stanford working on a NASA gyroscope experiment. Following this he joined Hewlett-Packard, GCA Corporation and then Tencor Instruments. It merged to become KLA-Tencor. He later join Credence Systems as president and then chairman.