AkzoNobel's new Ashington plant offering employment opportunities for all

Lisa Mood on how one AkzoNobel's new plant in Ashington is bringing about a huge change in south-east Northumberland

www.crestphotography.co.uk Lisa Mood with some of the AkzoNobel team
Lisa Mood with some of the AkzoNobel team

To see the look on the face of a young, unemployed and unskilled person when they realise that they are being offered a job that offers a real career is something very special.

For it also to sink in that they will be working in one of the most advanced manufacturing environments in the world takes this all to a new level.

But that is what is happening in Ashington right now, and it is so exciting to see.

With many people in south-east Northumberland unemployed, whether skilled or unskilled, AkzoNobel’s arrival in Ashington has been like that of no other company I have worked alongside and I believe its presence reflects hope and confidence in the future in the town.

The company is building a £100m manufacturing facility on a green-field site in the town, from where it will produce internationally famous brands such as Dulux, Cuprinol, Hammerite and Polycell.

There is no doubt that it will be one of the most advanced manufacturing plants ever built and will be a tremendous asset to south-east Northumberland.

AkzoNobel recognised very early that the new site provided an almost unparalleled opportunity to break new ground in the manufacturing sector and is currently on the cusp of putting in place a very special diverse workforce in which mindset and attitude are more important than qualifications and experience.

The company’s key cultural principle at the Ashington site of One Team One Vision, where everyone is equal yet individuals are encouraged to achieve to their maximum, permeates every part of the business.

Although the manufacturing industry is often thought of as a non-diverse environment, AkzoNobel is passionate about ensuring that its team is made up of men and women of all ages. It’s also a question of ‘no qualifications, no problem’ as it is prepared – with some of its operator roles - to overlook qualifications demanded by other companies. It’s all about the right people.

This is brilliant news for school and college leavers, mums looking to get back to work and for mature workers, who can be overlooked.

We are working in partnership with AkzoNobel and Jobcentre Plus to create a passionate and diverse workforce. We screen and assess candidates, male and female, from the local community who share the mindset and positive attitude that the firm is looking to harness and we have assisted AkzoNobel by running two-week pre-employment training courses that are amongst the most innovative and invigorating that I have ever seen.

On the first day we have a collection of enthusiastic individuals who have put themselves forward for potential selection. The group usually comprises unemployed, often unskilled, people, but may also include skilled workers who have been made redundant and who share a common desire to gain employment.

At the end of the two weeks the group not only understand the key cultural principles that define AkzoNobel, but they have learned about themselves – their ability to communicate to one another and within the group dynamic, how to problem-solve and the importance of developing a supportive and collective team culture. This has been ground-breaking stuff.

I bet not many of them thought that an important part of their job would include community engagement, but that was the case. AkzoNobel is totally committed to creating inspiring and caring communities not just at work but in the localities in which it is based.

To ensure that this commitment is achieved, every one of its staff must be involved in outreach projects in which the company works with the community to enhance and improve the environment and people’s lives.

To date, four people have been offered employment, with a further number being introduced into the business in April and May. On the first course alone, we had men and women aged 19 to 55 who, as part of the course, studied Level 2 manufacturing awareness. As well as gaining key knowledge about the sector, candidates were equipped with key presentation, team-building and confidence skills, tools that are essential in the forging of a successful career.

For those who aren’t successful, it isn’t all bad news. Candidates acquire invaluable skills for the working world and gain a head start towards securing the job they deserve. In fact, most of those completing the course already do. Northumberland College can boast an impressive success rate, with 75% of those who complete one of our pre-employment training programmes finding employment in local businesses.

Mellisa Armstrong, 20, from Ashington, is a recent addition to the AkzoNobel team and had all but given up on her dreams of a career. But since landing a job as a manufacturing support operator, her dreams have been transformed into reality and she was thrilled to discover that she hadn’t only landed herself a job, but a career with a global company.

From working alongside the business, it’s easy to see that AkzoNobel is good for Ashington and Ashington is good for AkzoNobel. There is a true passion and a drive for success that is very tangible and compelling.

As a college we work with more than 700 businesses across the region, offering a whole host of training. Anyone wishing to find out more should visit www.northumberland.ac.uk

Lisa Mood is employability manager at Northumberland College, which is working in partnership with AkzoNobel.

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