In the May-June edition of Packaging Gazette it was great to read the articles in Question Time by Nikki Clark and Sam Ashton extolling the benefits of companies having young Apprentices, giving good examples of how they work and their potential career paths.
All successful and forward thinking companies are now recognising the importance of getting youngsters to want to have a career in the packaging sector as in ten years time we are all facing a demographic crisis. Too many of our workforces are in the ‘fifty something’ bracket, so now is the time to act, before it’s too late!
As they say, timing is everything, so it was very opportune that we have a focus on apprenticeships. Opportune because we have just completed the first Corrugated Fibreboard Apprenticeship Technical Certificate level 2.
The background to this started 18 months ago, instigated by the leading Corrugated Fibreboard producers in the UK. A project was initiated to develop a programme to provide a foundation course in the Corrugated Fibreboard Industry aimed primarily at school leavers or those new to the industry. The course would be an Apprenticeship, starting at Level 2, comprising two parts, a Technical Certificate (level 2) and an NVQ (level 2).
West Notts College are one of the most successful providers of Industrial Apprenticeship Courses. They led the development together with organisations like Proskills and PAA/VQSET as well as, initially, major players producing Corrugated Fibreboard Packaging. As mentioned earlier, the Industry had already identified a serious need for attracting a younger generation into their sector, having looked at their current age profile and realising that in ten years time there will be a lot of gaps to fill.
Developing an appropriate course is not an easy journey and after one or two setbacks the framework was in place, but someone was needed to get the first course up and running.
DS Smith Packaging has an excellent reputation for providing training for their existing workforce and they stepped in and offered to supply apprentice candidates so a pilot course could be run in 2012-2013.
The cost of training is not insignificant. One of West Notts College’s strengths is that they know how to source any available funding, which they achieved to help offset the costs for DS Smith’s new apprentices.
The Apprentice Courses are in two parts, firstly there is the Technical Certificate and secondly there is the NVQ. The Technical Certificate consists of five one week blocks containing lectures, practical exercises and a number of assignments ending up with a formal written exam at the end. The NVQ’s are experience based and last for approximately 12 months, during which time assessors from the college go into the workplace and assess the practical abilities of the apprentices.
The Pilot course started in October 2012. As with any pilot we had a few teething problems, for example the initial week had mainly lectures which in the feedback session left us in no doubt that too many lectures was not popular! So, for the next week the format was changed with a 50:50 split between lectures and practical shopfloor exercises. This got the thumbs up and was adopted for the rest of the course.
There was great support from the supply sector too, guest speakers were invited to contribute so companies like Antonine Inks, Ralegh Formes and Bostik Adhesives as well as DS Smith personnel provided really good supplements to the base lectures. The Apprentices were soon interacting with their lecturers and it was amazing to think that only a few months earlier they wouldn’t have known one end of a corrugator from the other.
The best example for me was one evening they were relaxing after dinner and another guest had overheard them talking about their life in DS Smith. He introduced himself and it turned out that he supplied Fork Lift Trucks to one of the sites. Straight away, to my amazement, the Apprentices were having an in depth discussion on the merits of the different types of trucks, and that wasn’t even part of the course! By the beginning of June 2013 the Apprentices had completed their Technical Certificates at level 2. Seven Apprentices have completed the certificate and in 8 months they have gained a lot of practical experience as well as a sound knowledge of the Corrugating and Conversion processes and the essential background to the industry.
DS Smith Packaging have led the way and by Christmas 2013 they should have seven qualified Apprentices who will then step up to the next phase of their careers in the Corrugating Industry by starting their level 3 Apprenticeships.
The value of Apprenticeships to the employers, apart from the obvious? These youngsters became a strong team, they compared what they did in each site and discussed the different merits. This meant that they could pick the best of each and take that knowledge back to the workplace.As they say in the advert, something like that is priceless.
It is reassuring to get endorsements from top professionals in the Packaging sector. Keith Barnes, Chairman of The Packaging Society, believes that these Apprenticeships are essential to make sure we give the new generation every opportunity to enter our industry. Corrugating, Papermaking, Packaging and Printing all have opportunities for Apprenticeships.
This course is the envy of many sectors in the paper and packaging industry and it is hoped that with these endorsements from organisations like DS Smith Packaging and The Packaging Society, then other companies will follow their example and recruit their own apprentices to take part in the programme designed by industry for industry.
When I was approached to become part of the course development team and course lecturer I had no idea what challenges would face us. It has been a great experience for everyone and one that we hope will be repeated again