Xtrac champions apprentices
The guest speaker for the awards was Peter Digby, chairman of Xtrac. He told the finalists that 45 years ago he began his own apprenticeship at British Airways. He then joined the Williams Formula 1 team and began a 40-year career in motorsports. He co-founded Thatcham-based motorsport gearbox manufacturer Xtrac in 1984.
“I’ve never forgotten my apprenticeship roots,” he said.
Xtrac has recently landed a massive motorsport contract to supply gearboxes for cars in the US NASCAR racing series. The company has a £55m annual turnover and exports around 80% of its products.
“We’ve gone through good and bad times but have always invested in training,” said Digby. “This year we doubled our intake of apprentices and undergraduates because we are so excited by the results of our apprentices over the years.”
Last year’s Apprentice of the Year Abbi Fisher, from BAE Systems, shared her success story with the audience via video. “I had always enjoyed design, drawing and the arts and made the connection between these subjects and STEM subjects when I did a BTEC in marine engineering,” she said.
Fisher has now completed a Masters degree in information management and is leading a project at BAE Systems to help make the company more data driven. She also said she was passionate about inspiring the next generation of engineers. “I enjoy visiting schools and attending engineering days because I didn’t have that inspiration when I was at school.”
Before she announced the 2019 award winners, Kate Arnott, partner at MHA MacIntyre Hudson, outlined key findings from her firm’s annual survey of UK manufacturers.
“For the seven years we have been running the survey one of the top issues for SME manufacturing businesses has been the skills shortage. So, I think it is important that today we celebrate what we already have in the sector by acknowledging the amazing range of skills of our finalists.”
She added: “Our survey shows that there is confidence in the sector – it’s a positive time to be in UK manufacturing.”