Linking education with industry

4 July 2023

SCC patron Essity is throwing out the rulebook on how to deliver a traditional apprenticeship, as it in November last year launched a new state-of-the-art Apprenticeship Academy carried out on-site at its mill in Prudhoe. “Our purpose is to increase skilled manufacturing numbers and raise the standard of apprenticeship delivery in the region,” says Clare Stewart, HR Manager for Essity Prudhoe Mill, and one of the driving forces behind the project.

Clare Stewart is the site HR Manager for Essity Prudhoe Mill, situated in Northumberland in the North East of England. “I joined the organisation in June 2021 and I am about to celebrate my 2-year anniversary with the business.”

With around 400 employees, Essity Prudhoe Mill is the second largest manufacturing employer in Northumberland. It is a fully integrated site which recycles, produces, converts, and distributes paper products such as Plenty kitchen towel, Cushelle toilet paper and Tork hand towels. “The site celebrated its 50-year anniversary in August 2022 and has a rich history in the area, employing a large number of local people and families alike,” Clare says. 

Supporting the young community
In the wake of COVID-19 and the pandemic’s effects on society, Clare describes how many of the local young people’s education, social interaction, and enlightenment of future career or academic choices were affected, leading the team at Essity to consider how they could support the young community. “We wanted to improve our impact within the local education landscape ensuring that those choosing an apprenticeship received the best training and education to carve a solid foundation for a successful career in manufacturing and engineering.”

After more than 12 months of preparations, Essity announced its new bespoke apprenticeship academy in November last year. Designed in close partnership with EAL – the specialist awarding body for engineering and manufacturing qualifications in the UK – the programme delivers academic and practical training on-site at Essity’s Prudhoe Mill, aiming to increase competition for skilled engineers and process operators in the UK paper making industry. “We wanted to ensure that we were linking education with industry in a way that would help all young people regardless of privileges, disability, or protected characteristics, to understand all options to make the right choices for their future career prospects,” Clare explains and continues: “Furthermore, we wanted to create a pipeline of home-grown talent within our organisation securing the future of our mill and showcasing fantastic job opportunities in the rural parts of Northumberland.”

More efficient than traditional methods
First of its kind in the north of England and the first in papermaking operations, the apprenticeship scheme is designed to be more efficient than traditional methods. Instead of apprentices spending substantial amounts of time away from the business at college and partly on the job, they will be fully trained on site within a bespoke training academy and learning from highly trained staff on the manufacturing line using technology with industry-specific equipment. 

The academy features a state-of-the-art workshop facility with equipment such as motors, conveyor, gear boxes and electrical panels to simulate real-life problem-solving on equipment the apprentices will be using in the working environment. “We have engaged all our apprentices and workforce in a way that they now enjoy learning, they thrive in the operational environment as they have learnt valuable transferable skills which they apply day in day out instead of a standard programme delivered to a group of people all working in different industries. One of our ex-apprentices who is now mentoring some of our new ones said, ‘I wish I had been doing an apprenticeship now as it is exactly what an apprenticeship should be.’ This in itself is the exact outcome we were aiming for.”

Working closely with the educational landscape
The project has enabled Essity to work closely with the educational landscape and provide monthly taster days for students at local schools, including SEND (Special Educational Need and Disabilities) and SEMH (Social, Emotional and Mental Health) students. “The days focus on supporting young people in learning new skills and giving them a flavour of what life in industry is like, thus inspiring more people to choose manufacturing and apprenticeships as a career development option.” And so far, the taster days have proven to be successful – apart from positive feedback from school management, eight out of eleven students attending one of the latest taster days at Prudhoe High School subsequently applied for the 2023 September apprenticeship intake. 

Guaranteed full-time positions
Upon completing the programme, apprentices are guaranteed a full-time permanent position with the company. “This is to ensure we have fully trained and skilled employees with the right behaviours and the ‘Essity values’ our business promotes, ready to become an asset to the business from day one.”

Throwing out the rulebook
By throwing out the rulebook around traditional apprenticeship delivery, Clare says that Essity’s approach aims to raise the standard of provision locally and within its industry. “Bringing our training programme in-house for process and technical operators will create new job opportunities for local people that offer apprentices a practical alternative to further education or even a change in career path.” 

Clare hopes that the academy will inspire a new generation of process operators and engineers, especially women, to see apprenticeships as a rewarding and worthwhile career with genuine prospects. “The Apprentice Academy will train apprentices from all age ranges on process and technical engineering pathways in two intakes a year - in September and March. It is our ambition by 2025 to have an all-female apprentice cohort in one of our intakes.”

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