As a company which specialises in services and products for the defence and energy sectors, you might think that roles at Tees Components are not for the beginner.
However, the North Skelton-based engineering and manufacturing business, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, puts a lot of its success down to investing in the skills of its most junior employees.
Tees Components has been running an award-winning apprenticeship scheme for over 30 years, working with Middlesbrough College Group on a comprehensive programme designed to give its apprentices a firm grounding in all aspects of the business and equip them with the skills and training to develop their careers.
“Because of the nature of what we do, we are very reliant on skills,” explains Tees Components Managing Director Sharon Lane.
“Everyone here is highly skilled and we rely on those specialist engineering skills, which is why we have always invested in apprenticeships.”
Tees Components provides sub-contract machining services to the defence and energy sectors, working on projects ranging from new submarines to nuclear power stations, solar power stations to hydro-electric plants.
The £5m turnover company also makes components mainly for export which are used in applications including oceanographic research vessels in countries including the US and Iceland.
It’s not the kind of work you can just walk into and do, which is one of the reasons why it is so important that Tees Components gets its apprenticeship programme right.
Sharon Lane explains: “It is really essential for our business that we have apprentices coming through.
“We are always growing and creating new roles that we go out to the market and recruit for, but getting the right level of apprentices through is critical for our business growth across all areas of the company.”
Working with Northern Skills – the apprenticeship and training company of Middlesbrough College Group – on the programme, Tees Components ensures that its apprentices get an understanding of all areas of the business.
“It’s important for us that they get a whole view of the business and it means that we get to know them really well as people,” says Sharon.
“They will spend time with the front of house team so they understand what happens when customers come in and how important creating the right impression is, they spend time with finance, with HR, health and safety management, sales and quality management.
“We also make sure that they are integrated with the rest of the team right from the start. They get to see all different sides of the business and that helps when it comes to their career progression as their interest grows in different areas.
“We are interested in understanding for each of our apprentices where their individual skills and interests lie, rather than trying to fit them into specific roles from the start.
“We want to find out how they want to progress and where they see themselves developing rather than us offering a job at the end of the apprenticeship and saying ‘take it or leave it’.”
Tees Components apprentices are also involved in real-life projects and work from the beginning of their apprenticeships, which last for three years and can be extended to a fourth year as an Advanced Apprenticeship.
Sharon says: “I think our apprentices appreciate the fact that they’re an integral part of the company from Day One.
“They’re making real parts and doing real projects for real clients from the start so they know that they’re having an impact and that they’re part of something, which is interesting and exciting for them.
“We also ask them to be ambassadors for the company and for engineering careers so they will go to careers events, they will visit schools and they will go into Middlesbrough College for events like National Apprenticeship Week to talk to students about life as an apprentice.”
Tees Components apprentices split their time between working at the company and learning at Middlesbrough College’s £20m state of the art STEM training centre.
Sharon Lane believes that choosing the right apprenticeship learning partner is crucial to the success of Tees Components’ scheme – and any apprenticeship programme.
She explains: “Middlesbrough College always listen to us and understand our needs and priorities as a company and that’s really important.
“They have been able to provide us with commercial training as well as apprenticeship-based training so they can match what we need and offer our apprentices exactly what we’re looking for.
“They have also listened to industry when it comes to the facilities in the STEM training centre as they are first class and they have made them as ‘real world’ as they can.
“They also have an excellent classroom environment for the Further Education qualifications which are part of the apprenticeships.”
So what are the results of this programme?
“Nearly all of our apprentices are offered a permanent role when they finish and we have a really high retention rate,” says Sharon, who has been Managing Director at Tees Components since 2018.
“Many of our senior staff started out as apprentices at the company – including me! – so apprenticeships are not just for shop floor roles, they’re for all areas, including management.”
What would Sharon’s advice be to companies who may be considering taking on apprentices?
“Apprenticeships are an ideal way for SMEs to be able to retain and grow their workforce,” she declares.
“Work with an experienced training provider like Middlesbrough College who will listen to your needs and develop their training and facilities to meet those needs.”
Northern Skills delivers over 100 types of apprenticeships to over 2,500 apprentices across the North East.
For more information and advice on how your businesses could benefit from an apprentice, click here.