Engineering a bright future for new recruits

Derek Smith

FACILITIES engineering specialist Edwin James Group is pressing ahead with ambitious learning and development plans, including a commitment to have approximately 15% of its total workforce made up of apprentices. The Uddingston-headquartered business is expanding its academy programme and creating a new training hub to support growth aspirations.

£150,000 has recently been invested in the physical training space, which features a classroom and training room, an ideas hub, and e-learning stations. The centre also boasts two electrical training booths to support apprentices in their training and preparation for assessments.

The hub will be complemented by existing learning facilities in Burton and Inverness and will be supported by virtual training via specialist corporate training provider Sponge.

CEO Derek Smith, who started his career as an apprentice electrician in 1982, told Project Scotland of the importance to the business of developing its own people at a time of sector-wide skills shortages.

He is passionate about delivering a modern apprenticeship scheme that creates the right ‘culture’ to allow the firm to thrive and support its values of safety, service, and people.

“There are loads of examples in this business of people who started as apprentices who are now middle, senior or director level,” he explained. “It’s very much what the academy has been created for. We also take in graduates; we can take in people from tertiary education; we can recruit others. There are many ways to get into that central flow. However, the academy is there to attract talent into the business, retain them, grow them, and allow them to grow within the organisation which equally helps fund our growth.”

The new learning and development classroom can accommodate up to 25 people, while the ideas room – complete with soft furnishings and bright colours – can be used by anyone from senior management downwards.

Edwin James is adding a number of new courses to its offering, including the EngTech qualification and staff wellbeing workshops.

With apprentices already forming a significant part of the workforce, Derek Smith is confident the business will reap the benefits of its decision to commit to extending this further.

“There aren’t enough people investing in apprentices,” he added. “Our industry is really struggling now with not enough qualified and well-trained engineers in the marketplace. Whether that’s a consequence of under investment or Brexit, I’ve no specific idea.

“In Scotland alone, we’ve recruited circa 20 apprentices this year. Down south we’ve recruited a further 23 apprentices.

“I’m a strong advocate of practical experience. What apprenticeships offer young people coming out of school is a life experience for four years; an understanding of how they can develop practical skills, how they can understand how to create a good work ethic and understand how they can be part of a bigger organisation. That gives them a foothold to a full career development path.”