Almost forty years since he was taken on as Express Engineering’s first ever apprentice Phil Lees remains with the Team Valley based business.
Since then, the hugely successful precision engineering outfit has taken on a further 94 apprentices and remarkably – 74 of these are still contributing the company’s exciting growth.
Senior figures including chief executive Chris Thompson, four of the five directors and 20 of the 21 managers began their working lives as apprentices which has always believed that investing in its people pays dividends. Indeed, Express was first awarded official IIP status nearly 20 years ago.
And, as it celebrates 40 years of trading, the company is preparing to take on another group of trainees which will include its 100th apprentice.
Said former apprentice and now Managing Director, Nigel Davison: “I am convinced that our apprenticeship programme has played a huge part the growth and success of the business. It has enabled us to train people not just in the skills required but the ethos of the company.
“The result has been that almost 80% of our apprentices have remained with us and many of them have been able to move through the business, bringing continuity and consistency to our operations. This has proved invaluable in an industry where skilled people are often in short supply.
“It has also helped develop a spirit which has seen us ride out the tough times. The flexibility and commitment of the team meant that even when shifts and working hours had to be cut at the beginning of this recession, people stayed with us.
“That has helped us to mobilize quickly as the sector began to grow again and take advantage of new and emerging markets.”
This loyalty has been well rewarded. Express Engineering’s order book is burgeoning, it recently won a national award from the EEF for growth, it is a regional finalist in the North East Business Awards and last year employees benefited from inflation busting pay rises.
Overall, 83.7% of the company’s employees have gone through an apprenticeship of some kind – a figure few businesses employing nearly 300 people could match.
Recent milestones have included the first female engineering apprentice, Rebecca Stearman, now 24. Back in 2007 she said she’d spend her weekends shopping for clothes with friends, listening to her favourite boy bands and dancing the night away in town – but Monday to Friday she was just ‘one of the lads’.
And there have been others, including Jasmine Ferguson, 20, whose apprenticeship was rescued by Express Engineering after her first employer went under. And there are a growing number of female apprentices now as Express has adopted a scheme in the administrative side of the business.
Brandon Mulvey, 19, has also made his mark outside work, shooting down the competition to be selected for a place on the Great British Rifle Team.
The company’s founder Keith Thompson, now 83, is still a familiar face at the Team Valley factory and says: “I enjoy seeing and meeting people in the business especially in this 40th anniversary year. It is great to see so many of our apprentices have stayed to become senior managers and directors. We have been through a lot together.”