Dan Rogerson, the Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for North Cornwall, visited Bott Ltd in Bude this week to find out more about the work they are doing with their apprenticeship scheme and how this investment is key to supporting growth in Cornwall and the UK as a whole. Clive Woodward Managing Director of Bott, the leading manufacturer of industrial and workplace storage solutions, discussed the value of the word ‘apprenticeship’ and their place in a productive society’ with the MP. Here he discusses his findings.
Bott has enjoyed 40 years of growth in the UK (80 years in Germany) and many holders of senior positions worked their way up from completing successful apprenticeships; something that the company is rightly proud of. Every year Bott tries to take on two to three young apprentices across a range of departments.
Our Bude-based vocational students undertake off-the-job training at Exeter College, who have worked collaboratively with us for 25 years on appropriate day-release course provision. The young people are mentored and guided throughout their training period both on and off the job and at the end of their learning, most choose to remain with us, often undertaking further learning opportunities; a perfect example of employer driven employee development.
It was very good to be able to show Dan Rogerson MP around the Bude facilities and introduce him to many of the current wave of apprentices as well as time-served staff that have been with us for many years, some of whom have progressed to managerial positions. Following the tour, I asked him what his impressions of the company were.
He said; “I’m very impressed with the way that investment in the workforce here is being delivered – in particular with the apprenticeships. The fact that apprentices are being paid a full wage whilst they are working here is a really significant thing. They feel really valued whilst learning the skills that are going to benefit the company as well as themselves. As an MP working for North Cornwall we are used to tourism and agriculture being industries that employ a lot of people and I support that and work with them very closely. But we also have a lot of great manufacturing here too that’s able to compete elsewhere in the country and anywhere in Europe; so seeing how efficient Bott is and all the investment that has gone into driving that efficiency is very impressive.”
Clive Woodward commented: “Apprenticeships matter, as they are needed to address a long term decline in the UK’s vocational skills base, without which, any plans for an export led recovery will founder. They are critical to the UK’s economic prospects and deserve a much higher ranking in the skills debate. You can’t build a future around making things, if employees don’t possess the requisite skills. Well run apprenticeships are a building block for achieving improvements in labour productivity, and reinforce self-esteem and personal worth in a productive workforce. In an area like North Cornwall, we have to nurture our own talent and apprenticeships are key to achieving this goal.”
“A frustration to the Lib Dems and the Opposition for a long time is that we don’t think that manufacturing has had enough support at the top level. It’s all been about the banking and service industry; the goose that lays the golden egg. We know above all that that is a bubble that can burst. Vince, as Business Secretary, has been saying ‘what can we do to support business?’ Whether it is through fixing the banking system such as introducing more competition there, investment into apprenticeships to drive up the number of apprentices, looking at changes in the tax system where we can encourage investment in capital and growing businesses. Whatever we can do to help manufacturing grow – the Liberal Democrats want to do that.”
“Governments need to do more to ensure transfer of skill-sets, working practices and engender strong work ethics for an increasing quota of disaffected and despondent youth unemployed. The recent abolition of compulsory retirement ages, while laudable in many respects, created entry issues and barriers for young people into the job market. I would like to see a creative approach using government incentives for employers to encourage a ‘phase-in/phase-out’ for those entering and leaving the workforce with pro-active skills transfer. Compulsory mentoring from ‘senior staff’ is a vital element missing in many of today’s companies and organisations and would add benefit if integrated into apprenticeship programmes.”
Dan Rogerson said; “In the public sector we have already seen efficiencies having to be made and that has meant jobs going. But we have also seen well over a million jobs created in the last three years in the private sector. Some of that will be retail and service industry, but a significant amount of that that is manufacturing.”
Commenting on figures showing UK manufacturing growth at a two-year high earlier this year, Government Apprenticeship Ambassador, Gordon Birtwistle MP said: “The Liberal Democrats have helped to create more than a million jobs in the private sector – now we want to help create a million more. Manufacturing is absolutely crucial to that and UK manufacturing growth hitting a two-year high is fantastic news. “These figures are welcome but there is a long way to go. For years Labour and Conservative governments let British manufacturing collapse, the Liberal Democrats are determined to rebuild it. “That’s why we are putting billions of pounds into high-tech manufacturing, science and renewable energy. And it’s why we are massively increasing the number of apprenticeships to make sure employers get the skilled workers they need.”
Dan Rogerson said at the end of his visit: “We have been talking here today about making sure that young people know that there are a range of routes that they can take. I welcome the fact that there are many more people going to University than there were historically. My parents trained to be teachers and I got to go to University - but it’s not right for everybody. There are many, many, people that would benefit from the apprenticeship route and the government have been very keen to drive up apprenticeships and to understand what a valuable route they can be into a long lasting career.”
Clive summed up by saying, “Engineering, manufacturing and vocational training in the UK have an image problem and part of that could well be that parents need to understand apprenticeships undertaken with responsible employers can and do benefit many children moving into the world of work. Additionally more teachers and careers specialists are needed with real-life work experience to be able to advise, guide and mentor students more suited to vocational learning, changing the balance of available options.
Over the last 30 years, the UK’s disastrous over-reliance on services, coupled to flawed political rhetoric that the only place to make things in the future is China, has resulted in a misplaced societal bias against working with your hands. ‘Making things’ matters and the UK has to start producing more and importing less if we are to have any hope of climbing out of the current economic mire. My colleagues in Germany cannot understand the lack of importance placed in the UK on reaching the right balance between Academic and Vocational Training, which lies at the centre of their undoubted economic power.
Doing an apprenticeship should not preclude young people from going on and doing a Degree. In my experience, employees who enter further education and obtain a Degree after first undertaking an apprenticeship route generally perform better because they have a real-life context to set their learning against. Governments should do more to encourage this route rather than one straight from school to University and I would like to see incentives to back this such as reduced tuition fees.”