Trifix & SETA
The Business: Trifix
Mark Ferguson founded Trifix Electronic Services in 2003. The business offers an electronics repair service to factories, ships and other parts of industry. Trifix is based in Houghton-Le-Spring in north east England and has a small team of seven, including Layton, Trifix’s second apprentice.
Layton is completing the SETA Advanced Engineering Apprenticeship. This programme begins with six months’ intense training away from work, before the apprentice starts his on-the-job training. Mark explains what led him to establish Apprenticeships at Trifix:
“We took on apprentices because we found it almost impossible to find anybody with the cross skills we needed. We need people who can deal with very light electronics right through to heavy power.”
For Mark, graduates didn’t have the hands-on skills required, another reason for him to train an individual to meet Trifix’s unique requirements:
“Without being unkind to people with degrees, whilst they are very knowledgeable in terms of theory, they lack practical ability. Both myself and Ian, my business partner, are time-served. We studied at college to HND level but the knowledge we gained working with other people on the job was far more beneficial than being sat in a classroom just being talked to. That’s the reason we’ve gone down the Apprenticeship route.”
Having an apprentice can also bring out the best in other members of staff, as Mark discovered when one of his more experienced employees took on the role of informal mentor to Layton:
“Dave, one of our engineers, is especially good at working with young people. He finds it rewarding to pass his skills and knowledge on to somebody. He’s really taken Layton under his wing to show him the tricks of the trade.”
However, for Mark, learning is an exchange that goes both ways. Layton will gather specialist skills from each person then share them with others, increasing understanding across the entire team:
“He gives us a focus to pool all our knowledge. Within our small group we’ve each got strong points and weak points and we tend not to cross share that information. Because we have Layton, we can pool our bit of knowledge and pour that into him. He’ll feed back to the rest of us information he has picked up.”
So, how did Mark go about setting up the Apprenticeship? What were the practical steps he took to find Leyton and bring him into the business?
“We went to SETA and said ‘look this is the person we’re looking for, they have to meet this criteria’. SETA shortlisted it down to three or four. We interviewed two apprentices and were impressed with both. We took Leyton on and recommended the other one to a company a few doors down. It’s good because the two apprentices have a peer, somebody they can go to college with.”
For a small business, one of the primary benefits of using a large training organisation like SETA and formalising the Apprenticeship, is it that creates no drain on resources or manpower. Everything is covered, from the legalities of having a young person in an industrial environment to creating a comprehensive learning programme:
“There’s always the fear that you haven’t covered something you should have done. With SETA, the apprentice does their six months’ basic training then comes back ready to move forward with your business.”
For Mark, taking on an apprentice was an essential business move and an important business decision. The Apprenticeship is the best way for Trifix to secure long-term future talent:
“An apprentice is not a route to cheap labour. Quite the opposite, in fact. We’ll probably invest more in our apprentice than we’ll see back in the next few years. Ideally Layton is going to complete his time, be a good apprentice, be very knowledgeable and be a very good engineer.”
The Training Organisation: SETA
David Hickman is Business Development Manager at SETA Engineering and Group Training Association in the North East of England. SETA was established around 40 years ago by a group of local engineering employers who wanted to improve training in their businesses.
From the early stages, when an employer first enquires about Apprenticeships, David provides a personal point of contact to them. Questions about the most appropriate type of Apprenticeship for a business, whether they need SETA to provide candidates or anything else the employer would like to know are all dealt with by David himself. Once the Apprenticeship gets underway other SETA team members such as training managers have direct contact with employers, but David‘s door is always open: “I say to every employer that once they’re on the programme, if they have any questions they can call me.”
Unlike many other Apprenticeships, the SETA programme begins with six months’ intense training, before the apprentice starts his on-the-job training.
David explains the relatively specialised Apprenticeship SETA offers:
“The Apprenticeships we deliver sit under the title engineering manufacture and within that main framework, there are Apprenticeships in manufacturing engineering, engineering maintenance and fabrication and welding.”
The Apprenticeships run by SETA tend to be tailored for school leavers so the start date is in September. For around six months apprentices attend workshop training from Tuesday to Friday, 8.30am – 4pm. At the end of this period they begin working on their employers’ premises where all of their subsequent training is done. In contrast to many other Apprenticeships, apprentices training with SETA must already have an offer of employment when they begin. David explains the different ways potential apprentices are matched to employers before the SETA training starts:
“There are three ways for an employer to get an apprentice. Firstly, they may run their own recruitment campaign, or simply invite the younger relative of a staff member to do an Apprenticeship. They’ve identified the individual first and then we undertake the training on their behalf. Secondly, a young person might approach the company directly looking for an Apprenticeship. More often, I talk to the employer and find out first what they want to achieve. They may not know what type of Apprenticeship they need. We’ll furnish them with some candidates that we’ve already had applications from and put through aptitude testing. We say ’here are some suitable candidates for you.’
Once the new employer has received the candidates’ details from David, it is up to them to whittle the list down, interview and appoint their apprentice.
From when the apprentices begin their training with SETA, their employer pays them. The national apprentice wage is just £2.68 an hour, but most employers pay more. Although some employers are surprised that they must pay a person for six months before they begin working on-site in their business, in fact this is a good deal all round, as David explains:
“When a youngster starts employment with a company the employer pays their wages – that’s not negotiable – but the employer gets the training itself for free. During the training period the employer can come into the workshop and see their apprentice any time they like. They can give us a call and say ‘we’d like to come and see how he’s doing.’ Within that six-month period we also have three formal review sessions where we bring the employer in and sit down with the apprentice to look at how things are going.”
The majority of the businesses SETA works with are SMEs. While some understand the Apprenticeship process and have had apprentices in the past, others are unsure about how to recruit an apprentice, the structure of Apprenticeship training and their obligations as an apprentice employer.
“Some businesses know a lot because they’ve already had apprentices. However, there’s sometimes confusion. Employers don’t always know how wages work and although they might know government funding is available, they don’t always realise what that covers. We really support businesses throughout the 4-5 months that lead up to the appointment and the remaining years of the Apprenticeships.”
Within the engineering industry, Apprenticeships are a valuable source of trained, skilled employees. David gives an example of the long-term gains a good apprentice can bring to a business:
“If you run a small engineering company practicing precision engineering, then skilled tool makers are a rare commodity and command serious money. Your business may be growing or you may have plans to grow. If you want to bring a skilled man in in two years time it will cost you a lot of money. To take that cost away, you can bring a youngster in now. They’ll grow with your business to be a productive member of staff and it will pay you to do that. From a small business point of view they could start building the staff up now to a craftsman’s level in the future.”
David believes that SETA produces able, dedicated apprentices who will go on to become valued and permanent team members in hundreds of small businesses:
“What always impresses me is the quality of the work and the capability of the apprentices after they’ve done their initial training. It’s a risk to take on any employee – particularly a young one but our employers are often surprised by how competent these youngsters are when they start the job.”