NECC launches new book on apprentices-turned-high-flyers as National Apprenticeship Week kicks off

Nifco's Mike Matthews, Esh Group's Brian Manning and Nissan's Kevin Fitzpatrick among those featured in Apprentice Greats

The launch of the Apprentice Greats booklet, at Gateshead College
The launch of the Apprentice Greats booklet, at Gateshead College

A new book shows how apprenticeships can propel talented youngsters to the top of their game.

Apprentice Greats: 200 of the North East’s Most Successful Leaders tells the stories of how some of the region’s best-known business brains started out as apprentices themselves.

It includes the likes of Mike Matthews from Nifco, Brian Manning from Esh Group and vice president of Nissan’s UK manufacturing operations, Kevin Fitzpatrick.

The book was created by the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) to mark National Apprenticeships Week and as part of the organisation’s 200th anniversary celebrations.

Sponsored by Middlesbrough College and Gateshead College, it was launched in the Greenhouse brasserie in Gateshead’s Baltic Campus on Monday, with an event attended by businesses, training providers and apprentices.

NECC director of policy Ross Smith told those gathered: “It was a fairly obvious thing for us to do - to make something about apprenticeships part of the celebrations - because training has been such a huge part of the Chamber’s history.”

left to right, Lucy McKinnie, Ross Smith, Adam Tatters, and Principle of Gateshead College, Judith Doyle
left to right, Lucy McKinnie, Ross Smith, Adam Tatters, and Principle of Gateshead College, Judith Doyle

He added that the book sent an important message to young people about what they could achieve, to employers on how they could benefit and to the next Government, who should concentrate on creating properly funded and supported apprenticeships through a reformed system.

Principal of Gateshead College, Judith Doyle, said the college, which offers around 2,000 apprenticeships a year and is recognised as being in the top 10% of providers, was delighted to be part of the celebrations.

Having embraced apprenticeships since working with Sigmund Pumps in the 1950s, it is now known for its close relationship to North East businesses, ensuring the specific skills needs of companies were met.

Apprentice Greats, she added, would help fight misconceptions about the path while reassuring people that it was not necessary to move to London to enjoy career success.

Among those featured in the book is John Cruddace, director of plant operations at the Sunderland-based Unipres, a Tier 1 supplier to Nissan, who told The Journal how an apprenticeship as a tool maker provided a base from which he had risen the ranks at the company.

Unipres now takes on ten apprentices every year, bringing great benefit to the business.

“It’s important that we get the younger generation interested in more vocational education,” Mr Cruddace said. “It gives them a chance and opens up new horizons.”

Adam Tatters, 23, who is currently in his third year of a five-year apprenticeship with the firm, agreed.

Once in the Army, he had left after a few years and found his military qualifications did not translate easily into the civilian world. As he began working at Unipress, however, his potential was recognised and, on top of his studies for an HNC, he is now undertaking a business and management degree in his spare time.

Also present at the launch was Neil Blagburn, head of renewals at Nexus, which is the third year of an apprenticeship programme that has so far seen 30 new starts join its ranks.

Mr Blagburn said the move had brought some “strong individuals who are willing and self-motivated” to the company, including Paul Johnstone, 20, who is concentrating on signalling maintenance and testing.

“I went to Strathclyde University for a year and realised it was maybe not my style of education,” he said.

“The apprenticeship has been better because it’s more hands-on and action-based, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how involved in the business I’ve been.”

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