Lock-maker goes for inside job

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THE ENGLISH subsidiary of a European company, which recently made more than a tenth of its workforce redundant, has contracted a local college of further education to provide an internal training programme which involves everyone from catering staff to the managing director.

Kevin Richardson, of Telford College of Arts and Technology, believes the programme his college has developed is unique in that all the training, from management to warehousing, is carried out on- site and on-line by an external team.

'Bigger companies, like Unipart and McDonald's, can afford their own universities, many companies send employees to college, and some bring in specialists to train specific skills on the job,' Mr Richardson said. 'But for companies that want the least interruption of production, with the most extensive range of skills cover, the most practical way is by bringing all the lessons to the assembly-line and boardroom.'

That view is endorsed by Ymos (UK), of Telford, which has invested pounds 64,000 in the programme - or pounds 300 per employee. The company makes locks for the automotive industry and exports 80 per cent of its production, mainly to Europe.

The basis of the programme is business as usual, with no working time lost. Each employee follows a personal training plan towards a professional or a National Vocational Qualification. The prospect of having a bit of paper that says you can do the job you have been doing for the past 20 years is not always welcomed. But, Mr Richardson said, the sceptical and the reluctant are usually won over by a technique that includes presentations, seminars and an interview that identifies training needs - giving credit for existing skills and qualifications.

'People who think they are above or beyond training see themselves as victims when training is imposed. The process is accepted more readily when it's planned, rather than reactive, and identifies training needs, rather than inadequacies. If people realise that there's a corporate commitment, with no one excluded, then you can take all the company with you,' he said.

Once the programme is running, assessors inside the company take over. Each has charge of a specific area, such as management or engineering, and liaises with a project manager from the college.

Under pressure to become 'leaner, meaner and fitter', flexibility became of prime importance, Phil Whitfield, Ymos's managing director, said. 'In the past, we used to build and sell in large quantities, but now we have to work to customers' specific quality and quantity requirements. So we need staff who can be moved around as the work changes.

'We've been able to strike a total package with the college, to look at every area of our operation, rather than going to several organisations and having to control it all internally.'

Initially, there was 'a lot of scepticism' among the workforce at the prospect of investing so much in training immediately after shedding staff. But now, Mr Whitfield said, people are very positive.

'We believe it will give us greater efficiency, greater quality awareness and a more stable workforce, which is important when customers are putting such high demands on us. We don't want high levels of staff turnover, and to have to keep training new people. We're still getting mixed feelings from people, but mostly they're more contented.'