Industry partners help turn Chirton’s dream to reality

Industry partners help turn
Chirton’s dream to reality

Frustration at the quality of the apprentices returning from ‘off-the job training’, was the driving force behind Chirton Engineering’s ambitious plans to create the ‘North East Advanced Manufacturing Academy’. The aim of which is to ensure that the apprentices will acquire the necessary skills required by todays Engineering Companies.


The brainchild of Paul Stewart, Managing Director at Chirton Engineering, the North East Advanced Manufacturing Academy (NEAMA) will officially open its doors in September with its first intake of apprentices from around the region. “As a rapidly growing business supporting customers from around the world in the oil & gas, automotive and other sectors, we have a need for high quality engineers. When we started Chirton Engineering in 2003, it was just four men in a shed, we now employ 65 people and we could not have achieved that without investing in apprentices,” says Paul Stewart.


However, Paul had become very frustrated with the level of skills shown by his apprentices coming back from their 18 week basic training. In particular the lack of skills in the operation and programming of CNC machines. Rather than do nothing about it he began to develop his plans to deliver the skills he needed and also help other businesses in the north east. “My desire was that after 18 weeks off the job training apprentices should have the necessary skills to come back to a business like ours and be capable to a certain level in setting, operating and programming, our CNC machines. The lack of the right equipment at external training centres meant that these skills were sadly lacking and we had to spend considerable time to get the apprentices to a level that we wanted.”


Working alongside North Tyneside Council, Tyne Metropolitan College, Tyne North Training and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, Mr Stewart has pushed through the development of NEAMA, which has cost in the region of £2 million so far, with money coming from the Employer Ownership Fund, as well as significant benefit in kind support from key industry partners.


Key to the success of NEAMA is its ability to deliver high levels of CNC skills in addition to traditional engineering apprentice training. It was here that existing suppliers to Chirton Engineering stepped in to offer their support. “External training providers simply cannot fund the level of investment needed to provide the machine tools that reflect ours and other businesses day-to-day operations. So we were extremely happy when WNT (UK), XYZ Machine Tools and Siemens all offered significant help in various ways to make sure that NEAMA is a success from day one.”


The new facility will deliver theoretical and practical education to apprentices with education support coming from North Tyneside Council, Tyne Metropolitan College, Tyne North Training and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. However, this did not resolve the issue of training in the workshop to develop the required skill and machine competency that Chirton and other employers are demanding. This is where companies such as WNT (UK), XYZ Machine Tools and Siemens are playing a significant part in making Mr Stewart’s dream a reality. “We had to ensure that the type of machine tools and equipment that we had in the facility are compatible with what apprentices would find in the workplace.

We were therefore extremely encouraged by the positive response of WNT, XYZ Machine Tools and Siemens, who have all contributed significantly in one way or another to the success of this project.”


The workshop at NEAMA will have a total of 28 machines from XYZ Machine Tools, each being supplied complete with a tooling package from WNT (UK). To give the apprentices a good opportunity to progress these machines will be a mix of ProtoTRAK controlled mills and lathes and CNC machining and turning centres with the Siemens 828D control system. In addition, Siemens will be providing a number of control units that can be used for training, which will be sited in a separate classroom within the facility.


In addition to the initial free of charge tooling from WNT (UK), NEAMA will also be eligible for WNT’s preferential discount structure for educational establishments, which sees a 50 per cent reduction on any item within its catalogue. Apprentices and staff can also call on the technical advice of WNT’s local Technical Sales Engineer, in order to maximise the potential of the machines and tooling. “We have been a strong advocate of apprentice training and encouraging school-age students to consider engineering as a career, so we were more than happy to become involved with NEAMA. We will provide support wherever we can to ensure that apprentices get the full benefit of our detailed knowledge of cutting tool application,” says Tony Pennington, Managing Director, WNT (UK).


These sentiments are echoed by Nigel Atherton of XYZ Machine Tools: “The education sector is important to XYZ Machine Tools so the opportunity to support what Paul is doing at NEAMA with machines was too good to miss. The machines have been supplied on a commercial basis, but with the significant rewards and incentives that are available when becoming a ‘XYZ Educational Partner’. In return we will be able to make use of the facility for customer visits and training, further strengthening our position in the North East of England.”


The target for NEAMA is to train 50 apprentices each year the north east “The intention is that these apprentices will still get their 18 weeks basic training, but with a minimum of an additional 70 hours bolted on at the end, which will concentrate on CNC machines. This will guarantee that each apprentice will be much better prepared to return to their employer and provide a return on the investment that has been made in them,” says Paul Stewart. “We are inviting other manufacturing businesses, both SME and larger employers to become part of NEAMA. That, along with the massive investment that is being made will hopefully overcome the fear that a lot of SMEs have about the affordability of apprentices. My vision is that by working in this way NEAMA will provide a continuous flow of high quality apprentices capable of operating in the modern manufacturing environment from the day they come back to the workplace. This is the only project of its type north of Sheffield, so it should be something that employers in the north east will become proud of.”


In addition to apprentices, NEAMA will also provide extended facilities for local companies that want to improve existing skills within their business. They will be able to send existing staff to NEAMA to complete a bespoke qualification that will result in enhanced skills that will be tailored to an individual and their employer’s needs. The whole system will be run independently of Chirton Engineering with other like-minded business owners and managers invited to become members of the employer group.