At Wilton International, apprenticeships are fundamental to the future of Sembcorp Energy UK, and their services to businesses on the site.

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Apprenticeships form a vital link between Wilton International’s present and future, bringing in tomorrow’s talent and helping young people get a head start in their chosen career. We spoke to Graham Taylor, HR Business Partner at Sembcorp Energy UK, about what makes apprenticeships so valuable.

What kind of apprenticeships does Wilton International offer?

“There’s a wide variety,” says Graham. “Our current apprentices are mainly in operations, working as technicians on the turbines, boilers, and water treatment plant. We have maintenance technicians, who are mechanical fitters, instrument artificers and electricians. In the past we’ve had apprentices in our analytical departments and in laboratory technician roles, and we’re currently looking for an HR apprentice. So it’s really across the board.”

“The basic qualifications of the apprenticeship might be a BTEC or an NVQ, and there are people we’ve supported to go on to HNCs, undergraduate degrees and Masters after that.”

Matthew Jones is a Sembcorp Energy UK apprentice who went on to study at a higher level.

“I was given the opportunity by Sembcorp to complete my HNC alongside my apprenticeship, which really improved my knowledge of my trade,” he says.

What’s the pathway to starting an apprenticeship at Wilton International?

“We’d normally talk to some of the local training providers like TTE, Redcar and Cleveland College, and Middlesbrough College,” says Graham. “This year we’re also working with NETA, who are based over at Stockton.

“The candidates will have already completed a year or two at the college, so when we get in touch we get feedback on how they’ve performed and what their interests are. Then we shortlist them for interview.

“We just took on six apprentices, so even though times are difficult at the moment, we’re still committed to the programme.”

Does Sembcorp Energy UK work in partnership with other organizations to recruit apprentices?

“One of the projects we developed was Tees Valley Production Technicians, an apprenticeship programme for all the companies on site. Every year, we get together and look at how many apprentices we want to recruit in total. There are now over 160 apprentices who got full time education and employment through the scheme,” Graham recalls.

What role do apprentices play in succession planning?

“Apprenticeships are fundamental to our future business,” says Graham. “We’d be lost if we had to give them up.”

“We provide career opportunities for the apprentice to allow them to flourish and develop their potential, and in return we get skilled people who hopefully stay on and work for us.

“Our plant manager is a former apprentice who went on to do his degree at Northumbria University. In our shift team of 50 operating technicians, about 40% are former apprentices. So we can clearly see that investing in apprentices makes good business sense.

“If you look at our succession plans apprentices come as a high priority. We look at the National Occupational Standards and develop the programmes to ‘grow our own’ as we say. And we’ve grown some really great employees. We take a strategic long-term view. It’s a cost, but it pays off.

For apprentices, the prospect of a long-term career is exciting. “When I was about to do my GCSEs not once did I think I’d be in a profession like this when my friends are still studying at university,” says current apprentice Shane Barnes. “At 20 years old I already have a career full of excitement and constant opportunities which could lead me to anywhere I want in life.”

What does Sembcorp Energy UK look for in an apprentice?

“What matters most is that they have the aptitude,” says Graham. “We give everyone a fair chance. At the end of the day, the best person gets the job, whoever they might be.”

“It’s great to see our new apprentices develop. They’re very keen, they’re very eager, and they’re in tune with changes in technology. For instance, to open a valve you’d once have needed six people with wheel braces. Now it’s all done on a screen. So it’s great that we’re bringing in people who have this kind of technological expertise.”

For apprentices, the experience is an opportunity to build soft skills and professional relationships as well as gain technical knowledge.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn about the trade and industry in general. It has allowed me to start a career here and make lifelong friends. It has made me appreciate being in a team,” says apprentice Connor Scott.

How does the apprentice program benefit businesses investing at Wilton International?

“When new businesses come to the site, they need to feel confident that we have the people with the necessary skills to what our equipment and services,” Graham explains.

“We do train our apprentices to the highest standards, going above and beyond the minimum requirements. It’s essential that we have a new generation of people to enable us to operate our assets with the right skills.

“We think customers do look favourably on us because of our commitment to apprentices.”