We invited Chemoxy International Ltd to share its experience of apprenticeships and its work on a Trailblazer group of employers that has written new apprenticeships standards for several job roles in their industry. Chemoxy are amongst the country’s first employers to start their apprentices on the new Trailblazer standards so we also asked how it’s going so far.
Can you provide a quick overview of your business?
Chemoxy International’s core business is custom processing, but as well as this our company manufactures a range of environmentally-friendly solvents which are used in the latest generation of paints and cleaning products.
As a medium sized company we combine speed and agility with the health and safety associated with a small/medium sized business with the health and safety and environmental performance of the best major chemical corporations. Our Middlesbrough site has carried out distillation since 1868 and our Billingham site was added to the portfolio in 1994, with a major expansion was completed in 2014.
The business has a large proportion of exports sales and employs over 140 highly skilled workers across the two sites. Chemoxy has a long established reputation for technical excellence, confidentiality and EH&S compliance. We serve a diverse range of industries, including: speciality chemicals, petrochemicals, oil and gas, fuel and lube additives, household and personal care, flavour and fragrance, agricultural chemicals and surface coatings. Our performance products include Estasol® (low toxicity solvent) and Coasol® (low odour coalescing agent for paints).
We like to build partnerships with our customers and to work very closely with their technical teams to develop innovative solutions for operating challenges. We enjoy long term relationships on many levels with our customers and we pride ourselves on our integrity, customer focus and reliability, amongst many other attributes.
When did the business first start recruiting apprentices?
We began recruiting apprentices at Chemoxy more than 25 years ago.
How did/does the recruitment process work?
Chemoxy works in collaboration with other leading process industry companies across the region for recruitment and selection of apprentices. Numbers are collated and advertised as a consortium cohort along with assessment centre and interview processes.
How do you help your apprentices settle into the business?
Apprentices at Chemoxy are employed by Chemoxy rather than through an Apprenticeship Training Agency (an organisation that employs the business on a business’ behalf).
New recruits are encouraged to make informal visits to get a feel for Chemoxy as we see it as a two-way process whereby the young learners need to make informed decisions about who they want to work for and feel it is important that they make the right choice as well as ourselves. Upon recruitment they are encouraged to come to site when available and we have also built in ‘on-site’ time within their training programme. Chemoxy apprentices are very much treated as Chemoxy employees.
How far have apprentices progressed in your business to date?
A large number of apprentices have continued to be employed in various roles such as Lab Supervisors, Process Operators, Maintenance Technicians as well as those that have developed into mid/senior management positions such as (Senior) Plant Managers.
What do you see as being the main benefits to your business?
Chemoxy benefit from having high quality apprentices who are well educated and possess the desired competencies to step into a full-time position upon finishing the appropriate apprenticeship programme. The apprentices are well-versed in the Chemoxy processes and can see real career opportunities ahead of them. This provides benefits from a succession planning perspective and can save time and effort on short term recruitment management.
What challenges, if any, have you found with recruiting apprentices?
Feedback from the apprentices themselves suggest schools may not promote apprenticeship career opportunities as they could, with many school leavers with predicted high grades encouraged to progress into further education. In addition, some school leavers are recruited by training providers rather than businesses and end up disappointed when apprenticeship opportunities are not readily available. Apprenticeship opportunities need to be managed by businesses based on what they need rather than what training providers may feel business needs or the impact on how they are drawing down funding.
Which apprentices have you been most impressed by? What impact have they had on your business?
It would be unfair to highlight one or two individuals as Chemoxy have benefited from a number of apprentices that have gone on to have an impact in their role and that of future roles upon career development. Chemoxy are very proud of the fact the apprentices have had the opportunity to occupy mid/senior level positions within the company.
Why did your business decide to join one of the Trailblazer groups for its sector?
We have always played a prominent and active role in apprenticeship programmes over the last 25+ years and the opportunity to be engaged in influencing and shaping the future of apprenticeships to ensure they are fit to meet business needs was something we were very keen to do. Opportunities for ‘change’ have not been readily available and it was clear that Chemoxy were not alone in supporting change.
What has been the process for joining the group? What has been your business’ role?
Chemoxy has been involved in the Science Industry Partnership from the outset from initial ‘Board’ membership to involvement in the ‘Regional Steering Group’ for the North East. We continue to be involved in the Science Industry Apprenticeship Consortium (NE) which has taken the creation of the Trailblazer apprenticeship standards and put it into proactive.
What are the aspiration for the new standard developed by the Trailblazer group?
We hope that it continues to provide a programme that is relevant to the needs of the companies rather than adapting to a one-size-fits-all approach. The new standards have been created collectively and it is vital that this collaborative approach continues.
Have you started apprentices on the new standard yet?
Chemoxy were amongst the first to recruit a Lab Technician following the new standard and have followed this up with the Science Manufacturing Technician and Science Industry Maintenance Technician standard.
What changes to the apprenticeship have been apparent so far?
Chemoxy have been able to include additional training that was not always available to incorporate into the old framework approach and are more involved in the determination of when apprentices are deemed competent. In addition, behavioural competencies are a lot more prevalent under the new standard.
Would you recommend other businesses get involved in Trailblazer groups? What have been the benefits and challenges for your business?
I would certainly encourage other businesses getting involved if they have the time or resource to do so. It does take time and effort but the benefits to the businesses are worth it in the long run.
Will your business be subject to the new Apprenticeship Levy? If so what are your thoughts on the impact for your business and sector?
For a company that has always contributed to the support of apprentices, there will not be much impact other than how the apprenticeship programme is processed administratively. It will certainly add extra suitably qualified individuals into the sector and so the challenge will be to ensure there is sufficient growth in the sector to support on-going employment.
What are your ambitions for the future of apprenticeships in your business?
We hope to continue to provide a steady stream of work-ready, suitably qualified and competent individuals to meet current and growth business demands. We are immensely proud of the contribution apprentices have had on the success of Chemoxy over the years and with this approach ingrained in the company, I foresee more of the same where we can continue to offer exiting opportunities for young people.
Andrew Purvis, Training and Development Manager at Chemoxy.