Chirton engineering
Tom Keighley

Chirton Engineering lead new North East Machining Academy

North Shields-based Chirton Engineering are leading a consortium of SMEs to establish the North East Machining Academy.

The CNC manufacturer of precision components, including those for the likes of McLaren sports cars, are leading the development of the centre that will train existing staff and those new to the sector.

Chirton managing director and founder, Paul Stewart, came up with the idea following years of “banging a fist on anybody’s desk about the lack of skills in engineering.”

Paul explained: “A lot of SME businesses are reluctant to spend the time and money on apprentices. As an employer, we found it was very much left to the firm to take an apprentice through the training to the finished article. And, you got very little reward for it.”

Chirton have submitted a bid for to fund the idea through the Government’s Employer Ownership scheme, which provides match funding for employers to develop vocational skills training for their own businesses, and the sector in general.

The proposed scheme, operated in conjunction with TyneMet College, would see apprentices undergo an 18 week “basic introduction” to engineering and further 18 week introduction to CNC techniques.

Paul has managed to rally support from other business to provide state-of-the-art CNC machines and tooling - the kind rarely available to apprentices.

He added: “Ultimately we’d like to roll this out across all the skills from welding to fabrication and hydraulic engineering.

“My background is in precision machining and that’s why we’ve started here. The scheme is revolutionary because after that 26 week stint, we can stand the apprentice in front of CNC machinery, confident that they have that knowledge. They’re not a rabbit in headlights.”

Paul has also won the backing of SEMTA, the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies; North Tyneside Council; and a host of like-minded SMEs in the region.

Chirton Engineering have been in operation for ten years, producing components for the oil and gas and high-end automotive sectors.

The firm occupies a 49,000 sq ft workshop and employs 49 people with a current turnover of £4.3m.

Paul’s ambition is to grow the business through nurturing new talent and currently has eight apprentices are different stages of development.

Paul added: “There’s a very small talent pool to draw on and like a lot of companies, we have an ageing workforce. I know we need to train apprentices to meet our requirements.

“I determined I’d need 10 apprentices to fill the gaps left by retirement and further 20 to grow the business fully.

“Not too long ago, we had to turn work away because we didn’t have the capacity, and that’s not a position you want to be in

“I’m passionate about training and out of this programme, Chirton, along with other firms will get the next generation of engineers.”

Commenting on the Government scheme, Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “We want the Employer Ownership Pilots to test a new approach, built around an open and flexible offer for employers. I am happy to see that businesses have taken up that challenge.

“The difference in these schemes is that we will channel funds through employers rather than providers. I look forward to seeing the transformation that this investment will bring to shaping the skills and training of this country’s workforce.”

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