Alpek Polyester’s Jackie Petford on the payback the firm receives on its investment in apprenticeships and how around 20% of staff are ex-apprentices…
Name: Jackie Petford
Title: HR Manager
Company: Alpek Polyester UK Ltd
What does your organisation do?
Alpek Polyester UK, with its affiliates, are global leaders in the production of polyester-based bottling and packaging materials. The 64-acre manufacturing facility at Wilton International is the only Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) producer in the UK and supplies nearly 70% of the UK’s needs for PET resin chips. Its main use is in food & beverage packaging as well as uses in personal protective equipment.
How long has it been employing apprentices?
Since the days of ICI, in the Polyester Business – as it was known then – apprentices have always been part of the company’s strategy. In 2009 the business was purchased out of administration by Lotte Chemical and since then we have continued to keep the pipeline going, that continues to the present-day with owners Alpek Polyester.
Despite the business changing in both ownership and size over the years, apprenticeships have always remained an integral part of the company’s strategy in terms of succession planning and investment in the future of the organisation.
How many apprentices (approximately) has your organisation delivered?
Too many to count if you were to take it back to the days of ICI!
However, we can confidently say that since the reformation of the business back in early 2010, we’ve had 35 that have successfully completed their apprenticeships, 28 of these securing full-time roles with the company on completion.
We currently have 11 apprentices at varying stages in their journey and for the first time last year two of our existing staff embarked on degree apprenticeships – both of whom have come up through the apprenticeship route.
Why are apprentices important?
For us it is all about succession planning and addressing our current and future skills gaps.
Our demographics have dictated that we need to look to the future with regards to having competent employees when current employees retire. We operate within an area where we are competing with other chemical manufacturers for the same labour so having apprentices embedded means we can “grow our own” without having the go the external market.
What is the biggest benefit apprentices provide?
Without a doubt apprentices bring a new dynamic and energy to the teams that is evident in how quickly they become integral members of the Alpek family.
As we support the apprentices through their journey, it brings with it a natural loyalty to the business that you don’t see when recruiting externally so they are much more likely to stay with the organisation generally.
What is the most challenging aspect of providing apprenticeships?
For us as an SME it’s about the time commitment needed to support the programmes but with the support of the employees they are working alongside, the training provider and external organisation these challenges can be alleviated.
What would you say to any business considering providing apprenticeship?
Definitely do it, you won’t regret it! The payback you will get for investing in apprenticeships will pay dividends as you move forward. Around 20% of our staff are ex-apprentices, some of who are now in management positions. This clearly demonstrates the success of our investment in young people.
I would also say don’t forget about your existing staff. The focus tends to be on bringing apprentices in, mostly directly from school, but there are some great degree apprenticeships out there that will help to upskill your current workforce.
Finally, why is the North East Apprenticeships Ambassadors Network important?
It’s simply a great network to be part of as the companies involved vary from small to very large organisations, so whatever your size the support is there. The network is not about us as individual companies and our own agenda, it’s about a collective who have a drive and passion for apprenticeships.