North East employer Banks Mining’s commitment to providing its apprentices with the best possible preparation for their working lives has been recognised in a major national awards initiative.
The longstanding County Durham-headquartered firm has been named Employer Of The Year in the Apprenticeship Skills Awards run by Ixion Holdings, a not-for-profit group of companies that provides apprenticeship advice, guidance, development and training across the UK.
The award was presented to The Banks Group’s HR director Louise Lightfoot and training co-ordinator Lewis Cowey in front of a 250-strong audience at a special celebration event at the Grade One-listed Boreham House in Essex.
Ixion Holdings, which is a subsidiary of major UK employment and skills charity The Shaw Trust Group, worked with The Banks Group on the creation of a bespoke plant operating apprenticeship programme at Banks’ Shotton and Brenkley Lane surface mines near Cramlington in Northumberland.
Each candidate received a national vocational qualification in recognition of their skills and competence across different heavy plant earthmoving equipment to help widen the range of skills they’ve been able to develop.
The work undertaken by Ixion and Banks staff to support these apprentices with their training was commended last year by Ofsted for the high levels of health and safety, sustainability and corporate and social responsibility displayed at the two sites as part of an inspection of Ixion’s provision of specialist heavy plant operations training, for which they achieved a Grade 1 ‘outstanding’ result.
Jacqueline Oughton, Managing Director at Ixion Holdings, says: “The Banks Group Executive and Learning and Development teams have shown exemplary support in enabling their staff to undertake these valuable Apprenticeship programmes that have improved skills across the workforce and I am absolutely delighted with the progress staff have made, with many achieving formal accredited qualifications for the first time in their lives.
“The Banks Group have heavily supported the off-the-job training element by providing access to onsite training facilities at their surface mines.
“Ixion Holdings Ltd has supported an increase in UK productivity of over £50m in the last year and the Apprentices at The Banks Group has made a significant contribution to this.
“I am very proud that Ixion Holding Ltd has supported The Banks Group resulting in increased benefits to their organisation”
Around 120 people work at the Shotton site, alongside a further 50 at Brenkley Lane, and the two locations jointly contribute over £35m every year to the regional economy through wages, investment and the local supply chain.
The coal produced at the two sites is used for a wide range of purposes, including steel and cement manufacturing, heating residential properties and electricity generation, while the fireclay mined there is an essential component in the manufacture of house bricks.
The family-owned firm is currently awaiting a decision by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire, on whether its planned Highthorn surface mine in Northumberland can go ahead.
Keith Tarn, group HR manager at The Banks Group, adds: “A key challenge for any business is ensuring it keeps refreshing its workforce’s skills base and makes the best possible use of the expertise of highly-experienced staff who can help all recruits learn on the job.
“Our apprenticeship programme helps our recruits to gain skills that will serve them well while they’re working with us, as well as right through their working lives, and we’ve seen tangible benefits from taking a bespoke approach to apprenticeship provision at our Shotton and Brenkley Lane surface mines.
“It’s especially pleasing to have the impact that our apprenticeship provision makes on the skills and life chances of the people we employ being recognised through this award.
“Banks Mining has been providing people in the North East with the chance to build long-term careers and support their families through our mining operations for more than four decades, and we all hope that the Secretary of State will now make a positive decision on our Highthorn planning application quickly, so that we can continue with this essential work and reduce the UK’s reliance on Russia for meeting its continuing need for coal.
“Not only would we employ our own apprentices at the Highthorn site, but the Apprenticeship Levy income it would generate would support dozens more apprentice positions both within our supply chain companies and at many other businesses around the county and wider North East region, supporting economic and social mobility and transforming lives in local communities.
“Providing young people with the chance to develop practical workplace skills is an essential undertaking for both long-standing businesses like ourselves and for the sustainable success of the wider regional economy, and we are committed to continuing to provide even more apprenticeship opportunities in the future.”