Prudhoe-based tissue maker Essity continues to buck the national trend in apprentice recruitment with 14 new recruits, just weeks after new figures show the number of apprentice starts have fallen nationally following the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, a Government scheme designed to boost in-work training.

Essity, formerly SCA Hygiene, manufactures the popular ‘Velvet’ brand of family toilet tissue. The company has been running its award-winning apprenticeship programme since 2004 to grow their own talent and tackle the current skills shortage in the manufacturing and engineering sectors.

The company has now taken on 10 process and four technical apprentices aged between 16 and 26, which boosts the total number of youngsters currently in paid education and training with the tissue giant to 36.

Ian Callender, training officer at Essity, explains: “We launched our apprentice scheme 13 years ago as a direct response to the needs of the business, which was experiencing the impacts of an ageing workforce and skills gap in the engineering and advanced manufacturing sector.  Since 2004 we have recruited 140 apprentices with the vast majority now employed on site.

“During this time we have continued to invest and develop the programme to meet our business needs and changes in legislation. Apprenticeships provide us with an effective succession plan that ensures we continue to recruit the right people with the right skills to fit in place across all areas of the business.

“Our apprenticeships cover operational, technical and business support functions. They continue to play a vital role in helping to safeguard the future of the Mill, grow the business, increase productivity, efficiency and reduce operating costs.”

Essity employs 420 people at Prudhoe Mill and is the second largest manufacturer in Northumberland. Its apprentice scheme combines practical workshops and classroom-based theory with tuition and support from Gateshead College, the company’s external learning provider.

The process apprenticeship to achieve an NVQ Level 2 diploma in engineering is 2 years and the technical apprenticeship is a five-year programme to gain an HNC in manufacturing engineering. On completion, the new apprentices have the opportunity to pursue higher education qualifications also funded by the company.

Matthew Burn, 26, from Prudhoe, is a process apprentice. He successfully applied to the programme after becoming disillusioned working as a storeman for another engineering firm. “I always wanted to get into engineering and was looking for a career opportunity with real prospects,” explains Matthew.

“Essity appealed to me because I have several family members who worked here, I knew it was good company and its apprentice scheme is one of the best in the region. They’ve helped me to develop personally as well as professionally and at the same time offer me a genuine career path to focus on.”

Ben Clark, 18, from Penshaw near Sunderland, is also training as a process apprentice, he said: “When I finished an engineering course at Newcastle College I immediately applied to the scheme. My brother is a fourth-year technical apprentice here and he loves it. The apprentice route is a great way to get into a successful company like Essity, they make tissue products for brands all over the world and there’s lots of scope for progression. Eventually I’d like to become an engineering team leader.”

The Essity apprenticeship programme is aligned to the Advanced Modern Apprenticeship framework and designed to develop individuals to take on a full-time position. The company is also a Regional Ambassador for Apprenticeships and has received recognition from the National Apprenticeship Service and the Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills for its commitment to realising youthful potential.

Ian Callender adds: “We are continually looking for talented people who dare to think innovatively, have personal drive, embrace challenges and have the ability to solve problems together.

“As part of this we use our apprenticeship scheme to seek out the stars of the future. In fact, many of our lead operators started as apprentices. In a performance-driven company like Essity, which operates in an extremely competitive market place, suitably skilled employees are essential to achieve outstanding results.”