David Grailey, Chief Executive, NCFE

WITH vocational training very much at the heart of the Government's employment agenda, qualification awarding bodies such as NCFE are expecting to play an even more important role.

David Grailey, Chief Executive, NCFE
David Grailey, Chief Executive, NCFE

ONE of the oldest qualification awarding bodies, Newcastle-based NCFE employs 115 staff at its St James’s Boulevard offices, and has more than 250,000 learners registered to take its qualifications each year.

The organisation’s qualifications and awards are designed to give people a mix of skills, knowledge and understanding to help them fulfil their potential and realise their ambitions.

A number of its qualifications are also designed to re-engage youngsters between 14 and 18 who have not taken to the traditional GSCE model of learning, with some of the certificates covering areas such as pod-casting and even DJ skills.

The organisation is currently working with employers to see how it can work alongside the Government’s training agenda, which is very much work-based, with a particular emphasis on the recruitment of apprentices.

However, it is a challenge that Grailey is looking forward to, having helped to transform the shape and remit of an awarding body for the food industry as part of a former role.

And it is the food industry where much of the 43-year-old’s experience comes from. Brought up in Derbyshire, Grailey’s parents ran a shop in the town of Borrowash, which saw him getting his hands bloody at an early age.

He says: “My grandfather was a second-generation butcher and I was brought up around the family business from a very early age.

“I was part of a very close-knit Catholic family and we all used to go around to my grandfather’s house on Sunday after Mass for a catch up.

“I always had a work ethic. On Tuesday we used to buy livestock from a local market as we had our own abattoir behind the shop.

“When I was really young I used to deliver meat to the old dears in the village, but as I got older I became a general labourer.

“The work came very naturally to me. The only thing, as with most family businesses when you’re that age, I was expected to work twice as hard for twice as less.”

It was then that Grailey first got involved with vocational training after leaving school with few qualifications to his name.

He recalls: “Apart from the YTS I completed, I was allowed to go to Derby College once a week to sit a course in butchery and food technology.

“While I was there I was lucky to come across a lecturer called Chris Manning who was a local butcher himself, and who had got himself up to a Level 4 NVQ, which was equivalent to the first couple of years of a degree.

“He was quite inspirational and made my learning fun and interesting. As I had a bent towards biology and science, it fitted in quite well.

“It covered a wide range of areas, from the production and bio-science side of meat production, to distributing produce to the retailers.”

Realising that he now wanted to build on his training in the meat trade, Grailey enrolled on a Level 4 HND at Blackpool and the Fylde College, where he also became a qualified food inspector.

“I got a buzz out of achieving my earlier qualifications and didn’t really want a job where I was expected to work six days a week, and then do the books on the Sunday,” says Grailey.

“Don’t get me wrong, you can made a fantastic living being a butcher and it is a great trade skill to have. It was just that I wanted to do something that was a bit more mentally stimulating .

“It meant leaving a lot of my friends behind but it was definitely the right move as it opened up a number of career options to me.

“Blackpool was a great place to study. The college had a fantastic reputation, although I don’t remember much of the first term as the clubs were pretty much left for the students outside of the holiday season.”

After getting a job as a demonstrator for Bristol company AMC, Grailey moved back to Derbyshire to work at an American diner, where he was employed as a sous-chef, a role which saw him largely cook burgers and fries.

He says: “I came back to Derbyshire to consider my options and began working at the Road Island Diner.

“I didn’t have any catering training to speak of, but then again the menu wasn’t the most sophisticated in the world and I only had to operate one grill. However, it was still enjoyable.”

It was in 1988 that Grailey got his big break in the vocational qualification sector, with a job as lecturer at the Derby-based Meat Training Initiative, which had provided some of the training he undertook at Derby College.

It was here that the germ of his future career developed and he began to discover a deep sense of job satisfaction in helping youngsters better themselves and drag themselves out of the sometimes difficult circumstances they had found themselves in.

He says: “I guess I was quite young to be advising others on what to do with their lives, but I felt that I could identify with them and help them to find a direction for their career.

“That sense of giving something back is ingrained in me now and is very much a driving force for what I want to do in my own career.

“Although I was proud of the degree that I achieved a couple of years later, I was even prouder to have been able to help those youngsters at the Meat Training Initiative. I know it sounds a bit trite, but it’s nonetheless true.”

After completing a marketing and product management degree at Cranfield University, Grailey landed a job as a lecturer in meat technology and food industry management at Salford University in Manchester.

Although he was glad to be working at such a prestigious university at a relatively young age, the fact that he was working on a rolling contract meant that he was already looking for a new role.

His next position would lead to one of his greatest challenges.

As chief executive of the Meat Training Council, Grailey was entrusted to expand the awarding body’s functions to incorporate other areas of the food industry, from cheese making to fish processing.

The decision followed the outbreak of foot-and-mouth, salmonella scares and concerns over CJD, which saw many of the council’s customers disappear overnight.

Grailey says: “In response to the foot-and-mouth situation, we repositioned the council to offer a wider range of qualifications, so that we weren’t so exposed to the meat sector.

“As a result the council became the Meat Training Council and Food and Drinks Qualifications.

“It was a challenging time as we were always fighting against the concerns of the public over meat, which put more pressure on our customers within the industry.

“However, I positioned the business well enough, and with only five full-time equivalents, we were punching well above our weight.

“I guess we had a lot of responsibility for such a small company, but it certainly put me in good stead for joining NCFE.

“I had demonstrated my ability to reshape an organisation and respond to changing circumstances, which is something that is key at NCFE, particularly when it comes to Government policy.”

Since joining the NCFE as chief executive, Grailey has helped to grow the organisation’s workforce from 75 to 115 staff, and he believes people are key to the success of the business.

The organisation now ranks 30th in the Sunday Times 100 Best Places to Work in the Public and Charities Sectors, up from 77 in 2007.

Grailey says: “Gaining recognition as one of the top 100 companies to work for is exactly the kind of achievement that’s going to equip us to be a winning organisation, even with the challenges facing the education sector in the years ahead.

“The most important ingredient in all of this is our people, who we value very highly and who have helped to make NCFE one of the top national qualifications providers in the UK.”

With student debt level, higher university fees and fewer places, Grailey expects even greater emphasis to be placed on vocational training, particularly in the area of apprenticeships.

While the Government has significantly reduced its spending in many areas, its determination to invest in workplace training is underlined by its pledge to increase funding for apprenticeships by 50% – a move which is expected to result in the recruitment of 75,000 new apprentices by 2014.

Grailey says: “I think there will be more pressure on the further education system as candidates who would have gone down that route will be looking at other options now.

“The training landscape is going through a period of tremendous change, and, yes, apprenticeships will be a big part of that.”

The CV

2007-present: NCFE chief executive

1999-2006: Meat Training Council , chief executive

1998-99: Assured British Meat, market development manager

1994-98: Meat Training Council, education and training manager

1992-94: Meat Training Council, Investors in People adviser

1990-92: Quest Training, assistant director of studies

1989-90: Chorley Borough Council environmental health department, authorised meat inspector

1988-89: Meat Training Initiative, lecturer in meat technology

1987-88: AM Food Machinery Ltd, company demonstrator

1983-86 AW Coates Ltd, butchery apprenticeship.

Higher Education

1990-92: Cranfield University, School of Agriculture, Food and Environment – MSc marketing and product management

1986-87 Blackpool and Fylde College

Level 4 Institute of Meat –graduate membership

Level 3 Royal Society of Health – Meat inspection certificate

Level 4 Royal Institute, Public Health and Hygiene – food hygiene diploma

1983-1986 Derby College

Level 3 Institute of Meat: Associateship (Part-time)

Level 2 Institute of Meat: Affiliateship (Part-time)

Level 1 Institute of Environmental Health Officers: Basic food hygiene

The Questionnaire

What car do you drive?
BMW 3 Series

What’s your favourite restaurant?
Irvins, North Shields Fish Quay

Who or what makes you laugh?
John Bishop and Brendan Healy

What’s your favourite book?
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

What’s your favourite film?
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid

What was the last album you bought?
Black Eyed Peas, The Energy Never Dies

What’s your ideal job, other than your current one?
A forester or fighter pilot

If you had a talking parrot, what’s the first thing you’d teach it to say?
Up and at ‘em

What’s your greatest fear?
Losing my daughter

What’s the best piece of business advice you have ever received?
If you think it’s a good idea, do it as soon as possible

Worst business advice?
If you move on to that job it will be a bad move

What’s your poison?

What newspaper do you read, other than The Journal?
The Telegraph

How much was your first pay packet and what was it for?
£25 as a YTS butcher

How do you keep fit?
Don’t any more

What’s your most irritating habit?
Asking people to repeat themselves

Which historical or fictional character do you most admire?
Sir Francis Drake

And which four famous people would you most like to dine with?
Jimi Hendrix, Winston Churchill, JFK and Monica Bellucci

How would you like to be remembered?
Being a loving father and partner


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