Norfolk businesses say apprenticeships are key to growth

PUBLISHED: 17:28 20 September 2012 | UPDATED: 11:34 21 September 2012

The Norfolk County Council's Apprenticeships Norfolk event at the Forum. Apprentices Tom Cornwell, 21, 2nd left, at Lawtronic; and Sonya Dover, 19, 2nd right, at Culture Works East; with Mark Gaskins, business development director at Lawtronic; and Elli Chapman, artistic director at Culture Works East.  Picture: Denise Bradley

The Norfolk County Council's Apprenticeships Norfolk event at the Forum. Apprentices Tom Cornwell, 21, 2nd left, at Lawtronic; and Sonya Dover, 19, 2nd right, at Culture Works East; with Mark Gaskins, business development director at Lawtronic; and Elli Chapman, artistic director at Culture Works East. Picture: Denise Bradley


Businesses hailed apprenticeships as “the way forward” when it comes to growing and developing small and medium sized businesses.

Norfolk apprentices

Tom Cornwell said he found the route into an apprenticeship with Lawtronic in King’s Lynn suRprisingly easy.

After finding out about the apprenticeships while at sixth form, the former Downham Market High School pupil applied to a scheme at college and was soon being invited to meet potential employers.

The 21-year-old said: “As soon as I had my interview, I had phone calls asking if I wanted to go for interviews with businesses. It was a very easy process.”

Tom started working on the shop floor, learning the basic skills needed for the business, and has recently moved into the design office.

He said: “People think going for an apprenticeship is like going straight into work and getting a quick solution for the rest of your life.

“But you can grow it into whatever you want. I started doing level three training and then a HNC. I don’t have to stop there.”

He now wants to be a software engineering and his employers hope they will one day having him travelling the world with the company thanks to its links with America, China, and a new relationship being built with Brazil.

Tom Catherine had no idea what he wanted to do when he finished his GCSEs and enrolled for A-levels in maths, chemistry, biology and design at the last minute.

But after six months he was still not enjoying it and, during a sixth form trip to Hethel Engineering Centre, met Active Technologies director Antony Howell.

After getting some more advice, the former Wymondham High School pupil decided to leave sixth form and began working at the Hethel-based company on a voluntary basis to get some experience.

The 18-year-old said: “One month there and I knew it was what I wanted to do.”

Active Technologies took Tom on as an apprentice and he has since spent a year on a college course gaining the skills he needs for his engineering work manufacturing and designing products.

“I can see myself climbing,” he said. “I can now do stuff that other people can’t because they haven’t been through the training.”

Tom wants to work in design and his director Mr Howell said he hoped he would continue to progress and work his way through the company.

“I was an apprentice at 16,” said Mr Howell. “And at the end I was president of a global company.”

Sonya Dover says her apprenticeship with Culture Works East in Norwich has got her life back on track.

After knuckling down at school to get her GCSEs and secure a place at college, she found herself moving out of her home and into the YMCA during the second year of the course because “family life wasn’t exactly brilliant”.

Now 19, she said: “From there I did the typical teenage things – got in with the wrong crowd, thought I was better than other people.”

But after first meeting Culture Works director Elli Chapman through Festival City – a project which encourages YMCA residents to explore the cultural heritage of Norwich as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival – she began to focus again and enrolled on a number of courses to improve her skills. After completing the Right Tracks course, which was a partnership between the YMCA and Culture Works, she was taken on for a pre-apprenticeship scheme last February and began her apprenticeship the following September.

Sonya, left, who lives in Wymondham, is now working in the press and marketing side of the organisation. She said: “It’s hard, don’t get me wrong, because I’m not used to full-time work. But it’s so much fun, I enjoy everything I do.

“I’m willing to work hard. I know what it means to Elli to have someone who’s really loyal turn up and not let her down.

“I want to do well and make something of my life.”

The comments came as they helped launch the new £3.5m Apprenticeships Norfolk campaign from the county council, which aims to give the area’s young people bright futures in industry.

Today’s event at The Forum in Norwich coincided with an open day where youngsters could meet employers and find out more about the opportunities available. A total of 500 people registered an interest in an apprenticeship.

Speaking at the launch, Richard Bridgman, chairman of Thetford-based Warren Services, said: “We really need more SMEs [small and medium enterprises] in Norfolk taking on apprentices.

“I’m so passionate about it. It’s the way forward. We have got a severe shortage of skills in Norfolk. It’s not going to be a problem finding the apprentices – it’s finding the companies willing to take them on.”

Apprenticeships Norfolk will see the county council offering £3.5m of funding to SMEs in growing sectors who have not previously taken on apprentices to help subsidise wages by between £2,500 and £10,000 a year. It has also launched a website to help businesses sign up with minimum hassle – with support from lead contract provider the College of West Anglia, City College Norwich and Broadland Council training Services – and to give young people the information they need to apply.

Mark Gaskins, business development director at Lawtronic in King’s Lynn, said 60pc of the company’s 80 employees had come through as apprentices.

He said they had been key to the business’s growth. “Our turnover has grown by 30pc-plus this year and we have recruited at least half a dozen people just this year,” he said. “I have always view apprentices as the strategic element to grow the business.”

Antony Howell is director of Hethell-based Active Technologies and chairman of the Apprenticeships Norfolk strategy board. His company currently has five apprentices out of a total workforce of 35 people.

He said: “Apprentices bring a different approach to the business. They open up different ideas, even challenging you sometimes. It’s helps our business perform better.

“We are looking for the next business leaders.”

Ann Steward, county council cabinet member for economic development, said she hoped the authority’s campaign would help to overcome some of the obstacles which have stood in the way of SMEs in the past.

“It’s quite a complicated procedure for some companies, especially when you’re small, to take on apprentices,” she said. “This is about how we can make is easier for them.”

To find out more information about Apprenticeships Norfolk go to or call 0344 800 8024.

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