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Enfield Council Prove Apprenticeships Make Business Sense

Published Monday, 13 December 2010

Apprenticeships are making a come back, and just as Lord Sugar understands the value of apprentices to his business, many more Enfield firms are seeing the value too.

Nearly 200 years ago, speciality chemicals company Johnson Matthey was founded in London on the spirit of apprenticeship with founder George Matthey himself having been an apprentice at the age of 13.

Today that entrepreneurial spirit lives on, with the latest four recruits to join the company's apprenticeship programme at its Brimsdown site. Johnson Matthey is working with training provider Hertford Regional College to take the apprentices through their multi-skilled engineering apprenticeship which covers mechanical and electrical engineering, controls and instrumentation and project management.

Daniel, Jayson, Phillip and Rhys are already finding their way around the company as part of their initial six week programme shadowing different departments. Highly visible on site in their red sweatshirts, the new recruits have really gelled as a team and are recognised and supported by everyone at the plant. They are being shown the ropes by Barry Connelly, Brimsdown site manager, who was himself an apprentice and has been with the company for over 45 years.

In April next year, Barry will step down from his operational post to manage Johnson Matthey's Brimsdown site Corporate Social Responsibility programme. Barry said, "Our new apprentices have only been with the company since early November but already they are making a contribution to the business with their enthusiasm and ideas. Johnson Matthey is committed to a sustainable apprenticeship programme, offering real jobs with further education and training conducted on site."

Many businesses, especially smaller firms, may initially think that apprenticeship programmes are too time and labour intensive to run, but Johnson Matthey's Brimsdown site got its scheme off the ground in 10 weeks, from conception to implementation. The scheme was advertised nationally via universities and training providers' websites and went to every Job CentrePlus office and college in the UK. 150 applications were received for the four posts.

Talking about the process, Barry explained, "All the CVs went direct to the college so there was no impact on our business in terms of time spent sifting through CVs. The college did all the filtering for us and then invited 16 candidates to the college to sit practical and psychometric tests. We then selected eight of those to come to Johnson Matthey for the second interview process before we chose our final four."

Phillip, 21 gave up a place at college and left his job at Sainsbury's to take up his place on the scheme. "I was going to college to do 3D engineering and then changed my mind much to the despair of my parents. But now that they've seen how much I'm enjoying my apprenticeship and the opportunities it's giving me, they know that I've made the right decision. Many of my friends are in their final year at university and struggling to cope with their student debts. I can earn while I learn without having to worry about how I'm going to pay off my overdraft."

Rhys 18 thinks the hands on real life experience the apprentices are getting is invaluable. "It's great," he said, "Already we've been given operational experience with our supervisors, we've been changing panels on a new injection system and circuit testing and finding faults. The theory is explained to us and then the next day we're trying it out for real."

Daniel, 18 was applying to universities to do a degree in electrical and mechanical engineering and working part-time as a motor mechanic. "Everyone here is so helpful," he said, "It's a very supportive company."

Enfield resident Jayson, 21, said, "The company is built on apprenticeships so I know that this opportunity is an excellent springboard to a great career. Johnson Matthey has operations all over the world so if we work hard we can look forward to an international career with one of the world's leading companies."

Cllr Del Goddard, Enfield Council's Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Improving Localities said, "The importance of apprenticeships and the business benefits they bring cannot be underestimated. I'm delighted that one of Enfield's leading and long established firms recognises the value apprentices can bring to both their bottom line and Enfield's future economy. Having run our council apprenticeship scheme for many years, we're now working closely with Johnson Matthey to ensure that their business-focused model can be replicated across other Enfield businesses. Together we're aiming to recruit at least another 50 firms, large and small to provide apprenticeship opportunities for the borough's young people." 

Huw Jones Chief Executive of the North London Chamber of Commerce said, "The Chamber are delighted at the success of Johnson Matthey's apprenticeship programme and would congratulate Barry Connelly for setting up this highly impressive scheme. The Chamber would encourage local employers to consider apprenticeships as a positive initiative that delivers real business benefits. In these changing times we would also encourage young people to consider an apprenticeship as an option when deciding on their future career paths."

Enfield North MP Nick De Bois said, "This is exactly the sort of scheme that we need to see more of in Enfield, long term, sustainable programmes which can offer real jobs and opportunities for people. I look forward to working with Johnson Matthey to help roll out more programmes with our companies in our main industrial corridor."

Summing up, Barry Connelly continued, "Apprenticeships represent an enormous opportunity - the field is wide open. They are not just limited to traditional engineering disciplines we want to open them up to process operators and administrative roles as well. We will increase our apprentice intake each year and I know that this programme will produce a positive return on our investment. There is no doubt that the growth of our programme is in the control of our latest recruits, they'll be mentoring next year's apprentices and given their enthusiasm and commitment so far, I'm sure they all have exciting careers ahead of them.  They are excellent role models for their peers. Today's students are tomorrow's apprentices and our future workforce."

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