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Awards celebrate southern region’s top manufacturing apprentices

The very best apprentices from engineering and manufacturing companies in the Thames Valley and Solent & South Central region have been recognised at the second annual Southern Manufacturing Apprentice of the Year awards.

Seven finalists were invited to a special presentation at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Coventry. The visit included a tour of its pioneering R&D facility.

The Southern Manufacturing Apprentice of the Year Award 2019 is sponsored by MHA MacIntyre Hudson, Lloyds Bank and headline sponsor Xtrac.

Peter Laurie, head of client relations at The Business Magazine, said: “This year we had two categories to encourage smaller businesses to enter. I’d like to thank the judges – with so many very good entries choosing the winners wasn’t an easy task. It’s a great achievement to have been shortlisted and I’m pleased to say we have seven very strong finalists and two worthy winners.”

3D future

During the tour of the MTC the finalists glimpsed ground-breaking technology, including robotics, innovative additive manufacturing techniques and 3D printing to make everything from aircraft components to artificial knee joints.

The MTC is a major training organisation and in September took on 80 apprentices, twice as many as in previous years. “The MTC is the bridge between research and manufacturing solutions,” said Matthew Bastock, programme manager for apprentices at the MTC.

In 2015, Lloyds Bank joined forces with the MTC in a sponsorship deal to help tackle the UK’s manufacturing skills gap. An Oxfordshire MTS campus opened recently in Culham.

“With the support of Lloyds the MTC is giving the manufacturing sector the investment it needs in young engineers,” said Bastock.

Ed Toms, relationship director at Lloyds Bank, added that the bank has just extended its partnership with MTC to 2024 and will invest £1m annually in the facility.

“We are also transferring £3m a year of our apprenticeship levy to SMEs to support their apprenticeship training,” he said.

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.”

High standards

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.”

The awards

Finalists from companies with turnover under £20m

Darryl King, Robert Bion & Co

A lot of what I saw in the MTC is very different to the way we work. I thought the robotics was very interesting. We’ve looked at robotics for loading and unloading metal sheets and see this as something for the future. Visiting the MTC has made me want to look more at CAD work.

I’ve just finished my three-year apprenticeship and have been mentoring our second apprentice. The apprenticeship has really helped me grow in the company, I’ve built up my confidence as well as my knowledge and skills. I’m very grateful to Bion for the opportunity they gave me with the apprenticeship and would encourage others to look at engineering apprenticeships. You’re always learning and developing yourself for the future.

Judges’ comments:

Darryl always questions the approach to how things are done and continually comes up with solutions. He works as a STEM ambassador and mentors others. He received glowing testimonials from his managers and those he mentored.

Caitlin Smyth, Middlesex Aerospace

What I saw at the MTC was phenomenal. It was so interesting to see all that technology that is in fingertip reach but isn’t yet being widely used. I can see some things that we could use at Middlesex Aerospace, especially on the robotics side in our manufacturing processes. Robotics would mean you could utilise your employees on more productive work and make your manufacturing process second to none. More people should consider apprenticeships – you can’t beat the experience and the knowledge you gain.

Judges’ comments:

We were really impressed by the process improvements Caitlin has been driving, particularly in BSI audits. She encouraged the company to sign up to the Women in Aviation charter and supports other apprentices in the business.

Abbie Sullivan, Scott Tools

We are quite a small business so it was amazing to see the size and scale of the equipment in the MTC. My managers who also went on the MTC tour have worked in manufacturing for years and were very impressed. I thought the MTC’s scheme for apprentices was really good. I was motivated to join an apprenticeship programme after studying engineering at college for a year because I preferred to learn hands-on. You learn so much more quickly by jumping in at the deep end.

Judges’ comments:

The clear message about Abbie was how easily she picks things up and progresses. She manufactured a new mould tool from raw material to completion on her own, which really impressed her employer. Her hands-on approach shone through.

AND THE WINNER IS… Darryl King

“I’m over the moon. I really didn’t expect to win, especially as the other finalists were so strong. Apprenticeships are a very good way for people to get in early and learn skills that they can use to build a career for themselves. They’re also good for business,” he said.

Finalists from companies with turnover over £20m

Matthew Dearing, UKAEA

I thought the manufacturing techniques, specifically the 3D printing work at the MTC, was incredible. I can see many applications for use of this technology at UKAEA; we could produce samples for various parts used inside fusion reactors to examine, and perform preliminary experiments on them to find out whether the manufacturing technique is viable for future projects. I’m in my fourth year as an apprentice and have been involved in a wide range of design and manufacturing work throughout a series of placements around the business.

Judges’ comments:

Matthew carries out work that is advanced compared to his peers and beyond where you would expect him to be. He goes the extra mile by taking on responsibility for things, such as events to promote engineering apprenticeships and providing tours of the company’s training facilities for young people and parents.

Jamie Rusbridge, Xtrac

I saw ideas at the MTC that we could apply in the future. We make a lot of castings for our gearboxes so 3D printing was really interesting. We already make some 3D printed parts, such as for rapid prototyping. I’m in my fifth year at Xtrac and am now doing a mechanical engineering degree. After sixth form I decided that I wanted to get involved in making things rather than heading straight to university. Xtrac gives me the opportunity to work on many different processes.

Judges’ comments:

Jamie is viewed by his employer as an unsung hero. He has taken the lead on over 50 high profile projects and been involved in writing a new training guide for apprentices. He has also taken part in external events that promote apprenticeships.

Katriya Sabin, UKAEA

Everything seems so futuristic at the MTC. I didn’t realise there was so much technology like that taking place behind closed doors. Being an apprentice gives you more time to learn and gain experience, which is why I chose an apprenticeship programme after my A/S levels rather than going to university. There are good career progression opportunities with UKAEA’s apprenticeship programme.

Judges’ comments:

Katriya led a research project designing code that exceeded expectations. She is involved in regular outreach projects and in the development of other apprentices. Last year, she spoke at the International Women in Engineering Conference.

Tom Thompson, AWE

I was really impressed with the MTC and surprised by the amount of additive manufacturing work they are doing. The things they are developing could have potential use at AWE, such as in tool and making final products. I finished my apprenticeship in August and thought the programme I did was brilliant. You are learning while you are developing your skills, getting paid, and having your qualification paid for – choosing an apprenticeship is a no brainer.

Judges’ comments:

Tom exceeds expectations at whatever he is asked to do. He is very adaptable and learns from and applies the experience he has gained during his apprenticeship. He’s very organised and helps with apprentice induction days.

AND THE WINNER IS… Matthew Dearing

“I’m so surprised to receive this acknowledgement from so many people. I have to thank my careers manager for nominating me. As well as gaining skills through the apprenticeship I really think it’s important to share what you learn by mentoring others,” he said.