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GKN Offers Industry Leading Training School for Apprentices

GKN Wheels and Structures and Structures, manufacturer of global off-highway wheels and welded, structural assemblies for the automotive, truck, defence and off-highway sectors, has been offering an industry leading training school for apprentices for more than 50 years. 

Its three year apprenticeship course offers people, aged 16 to 20, the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the engineering field. The Telford-based company employs around 20 apprenticeships at any one time, providing ongoing support via a dedicated Training School. 

Dave Price runs the GKN Wheels and Structures & Structures training centre and mentors the apprentices through their training. He comments: “Over the past 50 years we have trained up countless apprentices who have gone on to work full-time within the company and in the engineering sector as a whole. A significant number of senior personnel at GKN actually began their career with the company as an apprentice – our site operations manager, Neil Geldard-Williams, and projects and prototypes manager, Darren Dobson, are both ex-apprentices.

“Our apprenticeship scheme has always been a key part of our operation in the UK, and we pride ourselves both on the quality of the programme, and the quality of the graduates it produces.”

As part of the course, apprentices undertake classroom-based learning, attending Telford College for Arts and Technology for three and half days a week. Here the apprentices take courses covering the essential skills for their role in the GKN tool room; including robotics, electrical skills, hydraulics, CAD, pneumatics, CNC and mathematics, PEO and welding. They continue their training at the college throughout the three-year course, gradually increasing the time spent on the factory floor as their knowledge and expertise grow. 

Dave continues: “Most companies release their apprentices for only one or two days a week, but at GKN we believe technical hands-on training early on in an apprentice’s career is essential to their development and confidence, so we build a much greater proportion of time to study into their course.”

The manufacturer’s apprentices are also given the opportunity to get involved in the GKN Wheels and Structures and Structures Charity Trust work. One such project, just completed, saw three apprentices spend one day a month at a local special school, Overley Hall in Shropshire, to create a wildlife area for the children.

One of these apprentices, Jason Jones, who is now in his third year with GKN explains: “The area used for the project was an old pond in the grounds of Overley Hall which we cleared and then created an island in the middle. We designed and built a bridge to the central island with a safe viewing area, and completed it with all the necessary safety fencing, hand rails and the right width for wheelchair access. This allows the children to cross the water onto the island so that they can see wildlife on and in the water up close. It’s been a great project to be involved in, and especially satisfying to see the enjoyment the children are getting out of the finished project.”

Dave adds: “Getting apprentices involved in projects like Overley Hall helps develop their team leadership, organisational and project management skills, so it’s an ideal way to support their progress through the apprenticeship programme.”

Neil Geldard-Williams

Now site operations director at GKN Structures, with responsibility for overseeing all aspects of the business, Neil Geldard-Williams joined GKN in 1979 as an apprentice.

He applied for a position on the GKN apprenticeship scheme at the company’s Hardy Spicer operation in Urlay Nook near Middlesbrough.

Neil comments: “I was impressed by GKN from the very start. Going into my interview as a 16 year old in my last year at school, I was naturally nervous. But I was put at my ease immediately, and offered a really clear and in-depth explanation of what I could expect from my four-year apprenticeship. This people-orientated approach continued right through my time as an apprentice with GKN – it was fantastic.”

Joining as a craft apprentice, Neil was on course to become a toolmaker and after the first year was given the opportunity to become a technical apprentice in the engineering department. Two years in however, when GKN closed its north east Hardy Spicer operation, he was given the opportunity to continue his apprenticeship through a move to Hardy Spicer in Birmingham. 

“When the option to relocate or to look elsewhere to continue my apprenticeship came up, the company was incredibly supportive – offering to help me either in my move to Birmingham or to find a company where I could complete my apprenticeship. 

“I was so happy with the experience I was getting that I chose to stay with GKN and moved to Birmingham. The company helped me find somewhere to live within walking distance of work, so it was an incredibly smooth and easy transition.”

Since graduating, Neil progressed through different roles in Hardy Spicer and spent time as the GKN Resident Engineer at Nissan Sunderland. He also spent two years in North Carolina as manufacturing engineering manager at GKN Driveline, as well as taking on a number of positions within GKN Driveshafts Aldridge and GKN Sinter Metals.

“My experience as a GKN apprentice was second-to-none. I was given real-time exposure to the entire business, all whilst earning and being supported. As I progressed through the course, I was offered constant mentoring, given real tasks and responsibilities to tackle, and objectives to deliver against. On top of this, I was also able to gain valuable qualifications whilst I worked – I achieved a HNC level qualification.

“In addition to my apprenticeship, GKN also supported me through a part time Master’s degree in Manufacturing Leadership at Cambridge University.

“It was a fantastic foundation for my career and throughout my time at GKN I always find myself drawing on the experiences from those early days, especially the links to people on the shop floor. I really enjoy talking to the guys on the floor, having a genuine knowledge of the job they’re doing. 

“I also make a point of seeing new apprentices within their first few weeks so that I can tell them about my experience, and hopefully help them understand the opportunities the scheme opens up for them.”

Darren Dobson

Projects and prototype manager for GKN Structures, Darren Dobson began his career at the company 19 years ago when he joined GKN Wheels and Structures & Structures’ four-year Technical Apprenticeship Scheme. 

Leaving school with 11 GCSE grade C or above, he found his school peers were dismissive of his desire not to pursue the expected A level and university path. 

Darren comments: “I had decided quite early on in my final year at school that I wanted to pursue an apprenticeship. I was taken by the fact apprenticeship schemes provide the opportunity to 'earn while you learn', and offer a structured training path and career development opportunities.”

Joining as a GKN apprentice in 1993, Darren then completed four years during which he gained a BTEC National Certificates in Mechanical Engineering, a BTEC National Certificate in Electrical Engineering and a HNC level qualification in Mechatronics.

“Prior to my final year I made the decision to pursue a path in manufacturing engineering. The company was fantastic in supporting my transition into the prototype department and finally into the engineering office for the final 15 months of my apprenticeship” 

“At the end of the course I was appointed into a project engineering role at GKN Structures. I also embarked on a part time degree course, and graduated in 2000 with a 2.1 in manufacturing engineering.”

Since then, Darren has gone on to work for GKN in various roles both in engineering and commercial departments and now holds a role on the Leadership Team as projects and prototype manager, overseeing all new projects for GKN Structures.

“I couldn’t recommend the GKN Apprenticeship scheme more highly. Throughout my time as a GKN apprentice I received career mentoring and ongoing personal and professional development. I was given the opportunity to work with, and be mentored by, talented and experienced professionals in the work environment and to gain valuable qualifications whilst I worked - without racking up huge student debts. The programme was most certainly a gateway into what is and has been an exciting and varied career in engineering.”

Myles Lerwell

Myles, 24, joined the apprenticeship scheme three years ago and now works full-time as a CNC machinist in the GKN Telford Tool Room. He had previously worked on building sites, ground works and at various factories, but came to GKN in search of career progression with the potential to gain qualifications. 

Myles is currently undertaking a HNC in Mechanical Engineering at Dudley College. With GKN’s support, he is able to complete the two year course part-time, attending one day a week.

He says: “The GKN Apprenticeship has been a really rewarding experience. I’ve particularly enjoyed being involved in two projects with the GKN Charity Trust – working at both the Severn Hospice and Overley Hall School. Working with other apprentices in a completely different environment, with real responsibility, has boosted my confidence and given me invaluable leadership experience.”

“I’ve had fantastic support from everyone at the company, and have been able to gain qualifications at the same time. Now I work full-time at GKN and I love my job – it’s great to be able to use everything I’ve learned over the past three years in such a hands-on job with real prospects for the future.” 

Eric Mann

Eric, 18, is a third year apprentice, having joined GKN after completing his GCSE’s at Ercall Wood Technical College. 

With his dad and brother both working for GKN in Telford, his family has strong ties to the company.

Eric says: “My dad has worked for the company for more than ten years, and my brother has worked in various site maintenance departments for seven years, so it was natural for me to look at GKN after finishing my GCSEs. I saw an advert in the local newspaper, and had really enjoyed my mechanics and engineering course at school, so I applied and got an interview.

“Now I’ve almost finished my three years and hope to graduate in September 2013 and go on to work full-time for the company. It’s such an interesting and rewarding job - I get to learn new skills every day and work with really experienced and knowledgeable people, so I couldn’t ask for much more.”

Jason Jones

20 year old Jason Jones, is in his third year of GKN’s apprenticeship scheme, graduating in September 2013. After completing his A-levels in Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics and Physics at Williams Brooks Sixth Form, Jason applied to be a GKN Apprentice.

He says: “I was looking for a fulfilling career where I could apply my scientific and technical knowledge to real-life applications – GKN fitted the bill perfectly. In the past three years I’ve not only learnt the practical skills I need, I’ve also learnt a huge amount about the industry and processes involved.”

Jason has followed in the footsteps of his father, who has worked as a welder on the Defender/Land Rover production line for more than 16 years.