Skills Minister Visits Sheffield Forgemasters

Skills minister David Lammy saw first hand how SFIL is leading the way for training and apprenticeships.

Mr Lammy, who is spearheading the Government's drive to see 500,000 apprenticeships in the UK by 2020, visited Sheffield Forgemasters as it announced another major intake of apprentices, which takes the total to nearly 10 per cent of its workforce.

Dr Graham Honeyman, chief executive of Sheffield Forgemasters, revealed a record number of 61 apprentices to Mr Lammy as he toured the Brightside Lane headquarters and heard how the company's dedication to skills and training has helped to turn around its fortunes.

Mr Lammy said: "Sheffield Forgemasters has made a historic contribution to the entire country, and in recent years have had to come through tremendous problems to survive. It is incredibly inspiring to have met the apprentices here, who are clearly motivated in what they do. It's an exciting atmosphere to be in, and it is very encouraging to see Sheffield Forgemasters take seriously both productivity and their skills base.

"Sheffield Forgemasters is a good example of how having a workforce with the right skills can not only help a company survive adversity, but also thrive and have a successful business. I am urging more employers to follow their example and develop apprenticeships through their Sector Skill Councils. Yorkshire is experiencing some serious skills challenges that are hindering the region's productivity and economic future. Employers need to realise that, by upskilling their workforce, they will experience significant business benefits."

Dr Honeyman said: "We had to act so that our older, experienced workers could teach their skills to young people before they retired. Simply taking youngsters from college or poaching them from other firms wasn't the answer. We needed to train our own apprentices to work on equipment and technology in this unique business."

Bringing in 16 to 20 year-old apprentices has had a significant impact on the company's age structure. Having taken on 21 new apprentices in the last few months alone, it now has more than 60, bringing the average age of the workforce down from 49 to 41.

Dr Honeyman added: "We pride ourselves on the fact that 90 per cent of our apprentices go on to earn full time contracts at Sheffield Forgemasters. Each time we begin a new apprentice recruitment drive we receive lots of applications from highly talented youngsters, all of whom are incredibly motivated and want to work, and with help of the government and organisations like the Sector Skills Development Agency (SSDA), SEMTA and MetSkill, this can continue for many years.

"A lot of employers don't see the value of this long-term commitment to skills training and the benefits of working with their Sector Skills Council (SSC) but it is absolutely essential that companies see this. In today's global market we need to have a highly competitive workforce. We face growing competition in our industry from countries like China and India who can undercut us in labour costs but it's in the high quality, added value areas that we can make a difference."

During his visit, Mr Lammy met former apprentice engineer Gareth Barker who has recently been appointed Sheffield Forgemasters' youngest ever divisional director at the age of 30.

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