North East manufacturing boss backs Journal's apprenticeship campaign

The man at the helm of the region's biggest manufacturing body has thrown his weight behind The Journal’s Proud to Back Apprenticeships campaign

Jack Hanwell of the South Tyneside Manufacturing Forum
Jack Hanwell of the South Tyneside Manufacturing Forum

The man at the helm of the region’s biggest manufacturing body has thrown his weight behind The Journal’s Proud to Back Apprenticeships campaign.

Having started his own career as an electrical apprentice at Swan Hunter before going on to be a training manager at the former Wallsend shipyard, Jack Hanwell supported 400 apprentices at certain times during his career.

The man who took the reins at South Tyneside’s Manufacturing Forum three weeks ago laments what he sees as a cheapening of apprenticeships over the years.

“When I did my four-year apprenticeship it was seen as a great career and you could stick your chest out with pride when you had served your time,” he said.

“I think the term fell into disrepute with many short-term courses being branded apprenticeships when they weren’t.

“There was also a big push towards university education but it is not the right choice for everyone.

“The introduction of fees has made people think and there is an opportunity for manufacturers to grasp the nettle and show youngsters they can earn while they learn, develop long-term careers and still get a degree if that is their aim.”

Mr Hanwell has placed apprenticeships at the centre of his work with South Tyneside’s Manufacturing Forum and one of his first tasks is to meet with Semta, the sector skills council for science, engineering and advanced manufacturing,

“Semta’s experts are knowledgeable, with so much labour market information and tools to help SMEs in particular,” he said. “They bring something different to the party and talk the same language as our members. Semta can be a great facilitator in creating the partnerships and climate to show the difference apprentices can make.”

He is also keen to work with Semta on getting the message out to schools, careers teachers and parents and to encourage more girls into engineering and manufacturing.

“For my parents’ generation the first thought for their children, especially in those days the boys, was to get them into a trade and they would never go wrong,” said Mr Hanwell. “In this region we still have a booming industry around oil and gas, renewables, Hitachi’s coming in, Nissan is expanding and we have a host of supply chain companies all fighting for an ever-decreasing skills pool. The pigeons are coming home to roost.”

Semta’s research shows 8,500 workers in the North East are due to retire by 2017 with a further 15,000 requiring new skills to keep pace with manufacturing processes.

That is why Mr Hanwell wants to see the manufacturing forum – in conjunction with the local council and South Tyneside College – double in size.

As well as Swans, Mr Hanwell had spells as a training manager at tank maker Vickers, AMEC and in subsea testing and training with Euro-Seas, the forerunner of today’s NAREC. He also had nine years with NOF Energy as training and membership services manager.

“I believe passionately in manufacturing and engineering in this region,” he said. “It is the basis of a healthy economy which sets us apart from others. The Journal’s campaign is a great way to highlight that there are a lot of companies making things and great opportunities for a fulfilling career.”

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