Growing young talent in ways that suit them makes excellent business sense

Judging by the large numbers attending The Manufacturer MX Awards 2017, and not just on the dance floor, there is no shortage of young people in excellent manufacturing companies.

A couple of awards specifically recognised the achievements of two young people, and the companies they work for. Steven Barr talked with Kodi Gledhill of Coca-Cola European Partners and Tom d’Arcy of Rolls-Royce about their different pathways and how they and their employers benefit from enlightened approaches to growing talent.

The Manufacturer MX Awards 2017 Gala Dinner and Ceremony - image courtesy of The Manufacturer.
The Manufacturer MX Awards 2017 Gala Dinner and Ceremony – image courtesy of The Manufacturer.

Kodi Gledhill is The Manufacturer MX Awards 2017 Apprentice of the Year. And Tom d’Arcy is The Manufacturer MX Awards 2017 2017 Young Manufacturer of the Year.

Their organisations, Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) and Rolls-Royce, could not be more different in terms of their customer base and technologies, but they share a philosophy of talent development that means Kodi and Tom’s stories are intriguingly related.

We hope this brief summary will inspire other young people into manufacturing, following paths that suit their individual ambitions and interests, and also encourage some manufacturers to change their attitudes to attracting and retaining great people.

A new approach

Long before my current role in Hennik Edge, my industry background was very conventional. I’m still fascinated by STEM subjects – in part because of my degree in civil engineering.

In contrast, my father thrived in his hands-on apprenticeship at Rolls-Royce in the 1960s, and was one of the most practical engineers I ever met.

But despite a fascinating and fulfilling start to my career it took another 10 years after my degree for me to realise what I really love – working with leaders in a wide range of roles to solve the compelling business issues they face, cutting across technical and organisational and financial matters.

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However, times change, and Tom’s journey will take him to where he wants to be much more quickly. He joined Rolls-Royce in Derby aged 18, not as an engineer, but as someone who wants to learn about the business of a world-leading company.

He’s studying for a Masters degree in Engineering Business Management through the University of Warwick, aligned with his work at Rolls-Royce. And Tom recognises the opportunities coming from a series of six-month roles including, supply chain, research and development, and operations.

growing young talent - Tom d’Arcy of Rolls-Royce“This is giving me a breadth of understanding of the business that will be invaluable throughout my career. That’s good for Rolls-Royce too, because the company gets input from my cohort with a very diverse set of perspectives on what’s going on in key parts of the business”.

Kodi has also been very focused in her choice. “I was always quite academic at college and I really enjoyed learning about technology,” she says. “My dad works at CCEP in Wakefield and told me they wanted apprentices. I applied to be an engineering apprentice, with lots of others, and I got the job!”.

Kodi should get her HNC in electrical engineering through her four-year apprenticeship and, subject to results, expects to be kept on by CCEP, despite strong competition to work for the largest soft drinks plant in Europe.

CCEP supports opportunities for further education up to degree level, showing its commitment to developing and retaining talented people in the local community.

Kodi has already visited and gained experience in a number of different CCEP sites, and will witness all of the key activities of the company, including production, maintenance and supplier management. She’s on site most of the time, and feels she is at the heart of the business.

A culture of support

Both Kodi and Tom have benefitted greatly from the strong culture of support from more senior colleagues. Kodi is encouraged to contribute ideas that drive continuous improvement, like the new inverter that is more efficient and saves 71 tonnes per year of CO2.

“We are not just making up the numbers on site. Every day there is something new and we are doing things that are making a big difference”.

growing young talent - Kodi Gledhill of Coca-Cola European PartnersKodi suggests other apprentices should, “be prepared and be strong in following your dream. Even if you’ve not worked in an area before, you are not inferior and you will be welcomed for your fresh views”.

Tom has taken on leadership roles at a much younger age than he might have expected. Isn’t Rolls-Royce taking a bit of a risk? In fact, their senior managers are very active as mentors, and Tom has always had the support he has wanted at different points in his progression.

Like Kodi he’s also benefitted from the commitment of his employer Rolls-Royce to taking him on when he had no frame of reference and no previous experience that would have suggested he would be suitable in the longer term.

The best companies are backing their young people to succeed. That encouragement generates a lot of loyalty in the company, and there’s a healthy competition among apprentices who want to stay on.

Kodi is ‘giving back’, for example as an ambassador to one of CCEP’s suppliers in Germany. She is proud to be part of a great brand and able to say, “I helped make that”.

Tom highlights the freedom Rolls- Royce has given him to take on projects he is passionate about. He ran a global innovation event with a colleague last year, which brought together employees from the UK, Norway and the US to tackle key company issues.

Now he’s looking forward to the company moving from a traditional manufacturing company built on experience to one that enables its people to thrive through common access to reliable data about their systems and processes.

In the modern word of manufacturing, some enlightened employers are providing different pathways for differently motivated people. That means they can attract and retain highly capable people who might otherwise be lost to the industry.

And perhaps most importantly, they can benefit from the unconventional ideas and energies that come from a diverse and engaged workforce.


Dr Steven Barr is a chartered engineer and expert in manufacturing business strategy and performance. He is the managing director of Hennik Edge, The Manufacturer’s networked expert advisory team, and is an active contributor to university research on collaborative decision-making. Steven is a member of several industry panels promoting the adoption of digital technologies and new business models in manufacturing.