Head of engineering firm calls for more funding for apprenticeships

Peter Breslin invested �250,000 to set up a training scheme to meet a skills gap. Picture: Robert Perry
Peter Breslin invested �250,000 to set up a training scheme to meet a skills gap. Picture: Robert Perry
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MODERN apprenticeships should focus on much-needed engineering skills and not on “Burger King or shopkeeping”, according to a senior figure in the manufacturing sector.

Peter Breslin, the managing director of Steel Engineering in Renfrew, has urged the government to concentrate spending on traditional engineering, having himself invested £250,000 to set up a training scheme to meet a skills gap facing his company and the wider industry.

The firm moved into training because schools and government training programmes were failing to meet the needs of Steel Engineering, he said.

Launched in August last year, the Renewable Energy Skills Training Academy (Tresta) was established to take on 60 trainees each year – but attracted 250 applications.

Breslin said: “There should be some method in place that would allow us to claim back a fair and reasonable amount on the training we provide. That doesn’t exist.

“It doesn’t stop us from taking them on – we still have 34 apprentices. We need to train them. They are our future.

“But the government needs to do more to finance apprentices – and they need to be in the right sector.”

He says moderns apprenticeships at some employers do not deliver the same level of training being given at companies such as Steel Engineering.

“They are accessing a pot and can claim £1,500 or £1,800, same as we can. But there needs to be a focus on what skills we need. Do we really need a modern apprenticeship in Burger King or shopkeeping?” asked Breslin.

The engineering firm’s boss expects Tresta to break even in the next two years, and the concept – which ensures a job for each entrant – will be licensed and rolled out to other firms across the UK.

In two years Tresta will have taken in 120 trainees, and the course has a 70 per cent success rate. Breslin added that, in its third year, the programme will become a registered training provider, which will give the graduates accredited qualifications.

He said: “If we get something that works, I am very happy for people to copy that model. They should not have to go through the pain that we had in setting it up.

“Tresta could be delivered through a licence throughout Scotland. It is not a government-created scheme where you can reduce unemployment figures because they are on a training course.”

For many of the trainees coming through the six-week programme at the academy, it was their “last chance”, Breslin said. Their continued involvement in the programme was based on a “three strikes and you are out” principle, with black marks noted down for lateness or not completing tasks.

When told to leave mobile phones in the staff room, trainees are sometimes incredulous, he added.

“They ask how they can update Facebook. We tell them they have to do it on their break. They find it difficult. At the age of 22 or 23, some of them have never worked – they have gone from training course to training course.

“We explain at the interview this is not a training course, it is an introduction to begin work at Steel Engineering. If they show promise, a good work ethic and they get through the six weeks then they have a job.”

Tresta was set up to meet “major growth” at the firm, which was driven by contracts signed with energy giants Samsung and ScottishPower Renewables.

Breslin said the company has already doubled its turn-over in its current financial year to £12.7 million.