Anne Wilson is the managing director of Numill Ltd., a Sheffield-based engineering firm that repairs and manufactures cutting tools. Numill has taken on apprentices in the past and, in the last few years, has reintroduced its scheme. There are currently three apprentices in the business.
Established in 1969, Numill is an ambitious, multi-sector business. Most of its work comes from the oil and gas, rail, aerospace and automotive industries. Anne Wilson, who joined the company in 2000 as a bookkeeper, is now managing director. She says: “Numill exports about 40% of its service out of the UK, predominantly into Europe. We’re looking at moving into South East Asia. Right now, we have 18 employees on site including three apprentices.”
Anne recruits apprentices in different ways. Some have come via local engineering colleges including Brinsworth Training and Sheffield College. However, two of Anne’s current apprentices simply contacted the business direct. Once they’d secured their apprenticeships, the business itself sent them to college. Numill’s third current apprentice attends Rotherham College for Arts and Technology.
Apprenticeships make sense in businesses like Numill, which have ageing workforces and require specialist skills. Anne explains: “Because the business has been in existence since 1969, lots of the staff have been here for a long time! Our oldest employee is 62 so it’s imperative that we bring people in to transfer skills before we lose talent to retirement. Taking on an apprentice is a good thing to do for young people, but we do it for the sake of the business too.”
For Numill, apprenticeships are a great way to ensure young recruits have the right skills for the job. Anne also feels that SME apprenticeships are good news for engineering more widely:
“Some apprenticeship initiatives are aimed at big companies when in fact 92% of all business is done by SMEs. If every SME (and in Sheffield we’ve got 3000 engineering companies) took on just one person, it would make a massive difference to the industry.
“I definitely think that engineering is the sort of industry that lends itself to apprenticeships. It’s a tragedy that apprenticeships in this city finished in the late 70s and 80s and now we’ve got a 25 to 30-year skills gap.”
The new apprenticeships at Numill follow defined stages, which are set out by the colleges and the NVQs. Meanwhile, the business provides hands-on training and pastoral care. Despite concerns about bringing young people into such an established workforce, Anne found they fitted in well:
“Young people tend to be open to new ideas. They end up with so many fathers and grandfathers looking after them! I did worry but the older employees love it. We’ve been very fortunate with the three young people that we’ve got – they’ve all settled very well. It’s about mutual respect.”
Explaining how she balances company resources against the needs of the apprentices, Anne says: “We try to give our apprentices a general overview of the work we do but at the end of the day we’ve got to be making money. We have to place apprentices where they will bring value to the business.”
Apprentices at Numill receive a wage and a future; one of the current group is about to finish his NVQ and move on to management and leadership training.
An apprenticeship can last up to five years and because engineering NVQs have flexible timescales, the apprenticeships can too.
Anne uses external HR and Health & Safety services, so she was able to access professional advice on some of the legalities of taking on an apprentice. She found that an apprentice’s age was the main concern: “When someone is under 18 you need a slightly different set of risk assessments to make sure they’re not put in any additional danger because of their youth. There are certain procedures to follow like telling their parents what they will and will not be working on. You just have to be aware of their youth and remember that they don’t think in the same vein as someone who’s been doing the job for a long time.”
Anne also accessed information through the colleges, the training providers and the NVQ assessors who visited the apprentices at Numill’s premises, although she believes contact with other employers would have been positive: “It would have been useful for another engineering business to share their experiences with us. That level of support between employers is sometimes all you need. Just a conversation, some reassurance over a cup of tea or coffee.”