For more than 45 years, SW Durham Training has been equipping the region with the skills needed to lead the way in the manufacturing and engineering sectors. Karen McLauchlan discovers more about how this Newton Aycliffe business is still doing its bit to spur on the development of the sectors across the region.
Manufacturing and engineering are two sectors that, it would seem, are bucking the trend across the North East.
With Eaglescliffe-based plastics giant Nifco UK reporting impressive growth and the return of steel making at Redcar, the region is benefiting from a manufacturing boom that is helping it to be the only area in the country with a positive balance of trade.
So where are the skilled employees that are behind some of the region’s manufacturing and engineering success stories coming from?
“Many of them come from South West Durham Training (SWDT),” said board chairman Steve Rose.
“We’re very proud to have a really impressive client list that includes some of the biggest and most well-known businesses in the region. And it’s the equity we have built up over the many years we have been here that is helping to keep us front of mind with employers right across the North East.”
SWDT has been operating from the same site since 1967, offering apprenticeships and training courses in manufacturing and engineering disciplines.
The business has moved on though, the most visual representation of this the state-of-the-art CORE Centre, a multi-million-pound modern training facility which officially opened in 2011.
Now a large part of SWDT’s 90,000sq ft site, the centre is a stark contrast to the old wing of the facility, which has the look and feel of a more traditional manufacturing environment.
“The different parts of this building bring to life just how much the modern manufacturing environment has changed from the old,” said Rose.
“We have to create an environment that gives our learners an accurate picture of what a real facility is like, so having both the old and the new means that we offer a good balance, allowing us to teach people the skills needed in a hi-tech and a more traditional workplace.
“We absolutely have to match our training with the needs of industry.”
And that is something SWDT is clearly doing well. Among the provider’s impressive list of service users is global business Tata Global Beverages – the company behind Eagesliffe- based Tetley, and more.
Rose believes that his team’s close links to industry and a deep understanding of its needs have helped to make SWDT as relevant now as it was when it was set up. “Our team is made up of highly-experienced tradesmen and women, who have served their time in industry, but who stay close enough to it to ensure that our courses are absolutely tailored to the needs of our customers.
“As an organisation, we’re keen to go ‘back to the future’ and explore what has made our former students a success to make sure that we are still delivering the employability skills needed to get them ready for entering the industry as well as the basic practical skills to get their careers going.”
Among SWDT’s former students are Gareth Berry, who is now vice-president of Electrolux Major Appliances, and Mike Matthews, managing director of Nifco UK and operations officer for Nifco Europe. Rose himself was a student at SWDT in the 70s.
He added: “We genuinely believe that we offer an approach to training that is quite special, and one that is holistic and wide-ranging.
“We teach people skills for life and I think that’s what has helped us to have such an impact and deliver such good results.”
Not all of the organisation’s students have gone on to have careers in manufacturing though. Perhaps the most famous of SWDT’s former students is comedian Vic Reeves.
“It’s a great claim to fame for us,” said Rose. “Members of the team we have here were teaching during his time at SWDT and remember him well.
“But it is the industry success stories that make us most proud, those are the names that we want to shout about to young people.”
Re-educating people about what the manufacturing and engineering sectors have to offer, is something that Rose feels is key to the ongoing growth and development of the industries.
“People often still think that an apprenticeship is the route taken by under-achieving young people. But with university fees rising, and the success of the manufacturing sector in this area, it does feel like that view is changing, and people are realising that they actually provide an opportunity to follow a highly skilled, and actually rather lucrative, career path.”
The company operates as a group training association, a model formed in the 60s to ensure that training was designed to exactly meet the needs of industry.
“In the early days, we had to do our bit to spur on growth in the sector, and ensure that we produced highly skilled people who could drive this development in the sector. And we still feel that sense of responsibility today.
“At a time in which the sector in the North East is doing so well, we are keen to ensure we are doing what we can to deliver highly-capable people who can fly the flag for the region’s manufacturing and engineering industries.”