Leading North East-based paint manufacturer, AkzoNobel, has joined forces with Northumberland College in order to upskill its workforce

Having already created over 160 highly-skilled jobs as well as over 100 more in the local supply chain since opening its state-of-the-art manufacturing unit in Ashington in 2017, AkzoNobel wanted to continue the development of its team now that the site is in full production by introducing an apprenticeship scheme.

After looking at the different training programmes available locally, it became apparent to AkzoNobel that there was nothing currently on the market that matched the levels of automation that are built into the £100 million Ashington site.

The company approached Northumberland College, which is ideally located just one mile from the plant, about the possibility of creating a bespoke programme which would cater to the site’s unique training needs.

“AkzoNobel and Northumberland College have worked in collaboration to develop what we believe to be an apprenticeship scheme that will support future manufacturing excellence in our state-of-the-art facility,” said Jeff Hope, head of manufacturing unit at AkzoNobel Ashington.

“Creation of the bespoke scheme involved consultation from the very early stages between our on-site engineers and the lecturers and staff at the college who brought much creativity and enthusiasm for the scheme to the site.

“We have been able to design a bespoke apprenticeship scheme that has incorporated learning about our site-specific processes as part of the curriculum delivered by the college to ensure that our employees have all of the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in their roles.”

Existing operators at the site were chosen for the first run of the new Maintenance and Operations Engineering Technician Apprenticeship Standard which will see them becoming experts in their field from an operational, maintenance and engineering perspective.

One such apprentice is Stephen Cook. Having previously worked as a temporary operator at AkzoNobel’s Prudhoe site, Stephen made the move to Ashington during the site’s construction. Now employed full-time as a process operator, Stephen is one of two employees to be receiving training through the apprenticeship scheme at Northumberland College.

“Joining AkzoNobel Ashington while the site was still in its commissioning phase was really exciting,” Stephen said.

“I have been able to learn the site’s unique processes from the ground up and have gained valuable experience across the board from the implementation phase which is now helping me to do my job.

“Training through the apprenticeship programme with Northumberland College has helped me to further develop my understanding of mechanical processes from a theoretical perspective which I can then put into practice during work-time with guidance from my on-site mentor, Bill, and my skills coach from the college.”

The AkzoNobel apprenticeship programme has been developed in partnership with Northumberland College as part of a new apprenticeship standard. The standard has been brought in to help colleges across the country to develop new delivery structures for vocational courses which take into account the needs of local businesses to create programmes which are targeted specifically to employers’ needs.

Sara Sawyer, business development manager at Northumberland College, explained: “The new Maintenance Engineering and Operations Engineering Technician Apprenticeship Standard has given the college the freedom to develop a new programme that really embraces the need to train the next generation of engineers within their specialist roles without some of the limitations of previous curriculum programmes. This allows us to be much more flexible in working with local employers in addressing their skills gaps.

“We were delighted to work alongside staff at AkzoNobel to develop a course suitable for their process operators and flexible enough to work around their current operations. We hope that this is the start of a long and productive working relationship.”

AkzoNobel is the world’s leading producer of decorative paints and coatings. Famous for its household brands such as Dulux, Polycell and Hammerite, the company’s Ashington site is capable of producing paint in up to 33,000 different colours.