Richard Bridgman, skills champion and founder of Thetford engineering business Warren Services, has been awarded an OBE for services to the training of young people in the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
Reporting by Will Stirling
The 70-year-old businessman, originally from Surrey, is well-known in the East Anglian business community and nationally for his tireless work promoting apprenticeships and work alongside the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to provide work experience and job opportunities.
Bridgman was East of England chairman at SEMTA, the sector skills council for manufacturing, for many years until 2010. He is an active member of the New Anglia LEP Skills Board, the Norfolk County Council Skills Group, the EEF Regional Board, he is a government Apprentice Ambassador, STEM Ambassador and enterprise advisor to the local academy.
Bridgman has earned a reputation “for giving 100%” and for his no-nonsense, straight talking style to get results.
Throughout an engineering career spanning five decades, Bury St. Edmunds resident Bridgman has sought to help young people reach their potential.
After completing a tool-making apprenticeship in Kingston, Surrey, he worked for a local engineering company for 22-years then moved to Brandon, Suffolk in 1976.
In 1990 with his wife he founded Warren Services in the Old Flint School in Feltwell, Norfolk, which relocated to the Fisons Estate in Thetford in 2005, where Bridgman redeveloped a 30,000 sqft factory.
In 2014, the business expanded to an additional 50,000 sqft site nearby. The company has trained many apprentices over 28-years, many of whom still work there.
Bridgman, who is passionate about work experience and believes the value of this is seriously overlooked, commented: “I like to consider myself a modest person and have always tried to put others first, especially young people, but I am delighted and very proud of this award.”
Now in semi-retirement, Bridgman heavily supports work experience for school and college students and for career change candidates. For the past eight years he has worked closely with the Norfolk and Suffolk DWP on novel ways of providing the unemployed with training and jobs.
Of the DWP, Bridgman noted: “The dark days of the old Job Centre have gone and been replaced by a very forward-thinking body.
“We work very closely on giving work experience opportunities to NEETs [Not in Employment, Education or Training] and many in this region have been given a job or that vital experience to making them job ready.”
Ten years ago, Bridgman tried to establish his own in-house training school at Warren Services due to the inadequacy of local training providers, but the plan was derailed by government cutbacks and bureaucracy.
He started working for West Suffolk College to improve their relationships with local businesses and continues to advise them, and has so far supported the college on a range of training issues and standards both locally and nationally.
He is now supporting the college’s bid to be a new Institute of Technology, a Department for Education programme to create 10 institutes nationwide, which he believes is essential to the region.
In 2014, Bridgman was voted by peers into the ‘Top 100’ of inspiring manufacturers by The Manufacturer magazine. In 2015 the University of Suffolk awarded him an Honorary Fellowship. In 2012 he was invited to attend Downing Street to advise on Health and Safety at Work legislation. and while at SEMTA he co-chaired a large House Lords event to give SMEs a better voice on health and safety.
Critical of the controversial Apprenticeship Levy, Bridgman has consulted with EEF and the government on the Levy’s shortcomings for industrial employers. But he believes apprenticeships are still the correct approach and is proud of the fact that he can now offer all his apprentices the opportunity to get a degree without incurring debt.
Bridgman said: “Many people have helped me throughout my business life and without their support and understanding I don’t think this award would have been possible. One of my personal dreams was to one day take my wife to a garden party at Buckingham Palace so this award tops that!”
He adds: “Manufacturing in the UK has a great future but we must work to keep training standards high and give people of all backgrounds a chance to prove themselves.”
In 2017, his son William became chairman of the family business when Bridgman senior stepped aside to focus on his work promoting skills training nationally. His daughter Estee is the company’s HR manager.