Bentley driving innovation

Posted on 9 Feb 2011 by The Manufacturer

Bentley Motors’ board member Christine Gaskell explains why, after 90 years, apprenticeships are still a fundamental part of the firm’s training strategy.

Bentley Motors has just launched its latest model, the new Continental GT, but for some employees this is the very first model. Twenty-one year-old Louis Warburton was part of the engineering team that designed and built the new car. He began his career at Bentley as a 17-year-old craft and technical apprentice and completed his four-year apprenticeship earlier this year.

Today, Louis’s main role is to liaise between the body shell engineers, production managers and assembly line staff. This means contributing to start-of-shift briefings on the factory floor, communicating with Bentley’s body shell suppliers in Germany, and it is done while Louis is continuing to study for a foundation degree in mechanical engineering that is sponsored by Bentley, in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University.

Challenging as it might sound, he firmly believes that an apprenticeship is the best possible preparation for a career in engineering and, with the support of his senior engineering colleagues, he is managing to enjoy both his work and studies.

Louis acquired a wide variety of practical, academic and business skills during his apprenticeship, gained through a combination of on-the-job training and attendance at the local South Cheshire College. His training provided a solid foundation for his first full-time role in the engineering team working on The New Bentley Continental GT. He explains, “My apprenticeship gave me the skills and confidence I needed to be able to make judgements, solve problems and deliver cost-effective solutions within agreed timescales.”

Investing in staff training and development is core to our success. Apprenticeships have always been part of the Bentley culture and we have continued to invest in them, despite the downturn when we have had to take some tough decisions across the business. In fact, we have actually increased our levels of apprentice recruitment.

And this doesn’t just apply to the engineering and manufacturing side of our business. We offer apprenticeships in finance, logistics and information systems as well as personnel, sales and marketing. There are potentially over 180 different apprenticeships covering all aspects of business.

Louis is a ‘Young Apprenticeship Ambassador’ – a Network that was recently established by the National Apprenticeship Service to give advice and inspiration to young people considering an Apprenticeship.

He is very enthusiastic about his role within this network and his message is clear, “If the UK wishes to continue to create world class products such as the latest Bentley Continental GT, then it is vital that we encourage young people and businesses to consider apprenticeships. This is a brilliant opportunity to gain real life skills and experiences as well as academic qualifications but without getting into debt with tuition fees. From a business perspective, apprenticeships offer companies an affordable and practical way of bringing fresh ideas, increasing staff loyalty and retaining skills.”

It is a shame that many businesses are still missing out on the benefits offered by apprenticeships, not least of which is financial support with training costs. UK employers who only recruit graduates are missing out, whilst we also have a graduate recruitment and training programme, apprentices also make a valuable contribution to the businesses – they too are productive, highly motivated, innovative and deliver a high standard of work. Like Louis, apprentices can continue with their development on the sponsored degree programme which complements the apprenticeship programme very effectively.