Manufacturing maketh the man

Posted on 30 Jun 2011 by The Manufacturer

As the Top 100 Apprenticeship Employers are recognised and Sir Alan Jones showered with praise, Jane Gray considers the state of Manufacturing leadership in the UK.

The glitz and glamour of the National Apprenticeship Awards, held at the Mermaid Theatre in London on Wednesday night, put some spangle into an emotional event.

The standing ovation which spontaneously swept up the tiers of crowded seats as Team UK, the group of youngsters chosen to represent Britain at the WorldSkills competition finally, this year also to be held in London, brought a lump the throat.

Simon Waugh, CEO of the National Apprenticeship Service captured the mood of defiant and brazen celebration neatly when he said: “For too long apprenticeships have been seen as the Cinderella of the skills world. Well – this year, Cinderella is going to the ball!”

The potential, the drive, the passion which exuded from last night’s winning apprentices was a great pleasure to see and it was of course right and proper that the dedication of learners should have been bathed in the limelight.

For me though, the real pleasure in the evening came from witnessing the quantity and sincerity of praise being showered on those who provide the learning environment for apprentices. Employer from a sectors and of all sizes were given the opportunity to hold the title of National ‘X’ sized Employer of the Year and the awards showed that even a company with just a handful of staff can support valuable programmes; contributing to what John Hayes called “a golden age of apprenticeships”.

I dislike political rhetoric as much as the next man (or woman), but leaders from industry seemed genuinely convinced of Haye’s investment in the future of vocational learning and lifelong development of skills. It was refreshing to see such trust expressed in the abilities of a politician to deliver on his promises.

I t was a privilege for me last night to stand shoulder to shoulder with so many employers, not just from the manufacturing community but certainly with a strong representation from them, whose actions day in day out show a dedication to their workers, to the integrity of their industry and to the future of UK Plc which ought to make less motivated execs and HR teams ashamed.

Sheffield Foregemasters, who The Manufacturer knows well, along with bigger household names like Rolls-Royce, Airbus and BAE Systems, all received nominations or took away top prizes. Furthermore it was impressive to see the contribution of industry sponsors to last night’s proceedings.

With the economic climate hardly friendly to lavish celebrations on a public budget, it was great to hear the private companies had stepped in to cover 90% of the costs of last night’s ceremony. Sellafield, BAE, Proctor and Gamble, BT and many other company names had their logos proudly emblazoned against awards as indeed did training providers like EAL and City and Guilds.

The latter provider, delivering high quality qualifications across a massive range of skills made another contribution to the evening which many of you may even now be flicking through. In today’s The Times and The Sun the Top 100 list of UK employers was published thanks to City and Guilds partnership with the National Apprenticeships Service.

Manufacturing companies feature strongly (though) largely in the large and macro categories. To those of you who made it into this list; congratulations, but do not let up! Smaller manufacturers need to feature more strongly next year and through this new publicity you now have an even greater influence with those in your supply chains or regional community. Help those who think supporting an apprenticeship is beyond their ken to see that they can resource it and that it will bring returns.

Before I ramble on for too long on one of my favourite topics, I would like to close by sharing the cherry on the cake of last night’s festivities for me.
Supported by the National Apprenticeship Service and the Apprenticeship Ambassador Network, Sir Alan Jones, former head of Toyota in the UK and a veteran of the automotive industry, was handed a Lifetime Achievement Award for his service to industry and to the support of vocational education.

Sir Alan is an exemplar leader; a template from which, if only we could cut a thousand more such leaders for manufacturing firms, the problems of industry reputation and attraction for the next generation, might not be nearly so large.

Rising from an apprenticeship level, never failing to take an opportunity to further his skills through part time HND courses and the like, and succeeding in sitting at the national helm of the world’s largest automotive company; Sir Alan’s confidence, erudition, ebullience and charisma showed hundreds of people last night that manufacturing is a route for winners; manufacturing maketh the man!