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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Learning new skills is recipe for success

The entrance sign says ‘open this door to new beginnings’ but the promised opportunities were almost lost during the 2005 Carlisle floods.For some at the factory learning is part of their everyday work – particularly in the engineering department where a number of employees are working towards degrees.

The learning centre at McVitie’s in Caldewgate had only been open for about a year when it was submerged under nine feet of water.

McVitie’s bosses and GMB union representatives had to go back to the drawing board and start looking for funding to recreate the centre in the wake of the devastation.

As it turned out, the threat to the centre only highlighted how important its survival was to the factory.

Now it is up and running once again and it is used by around 150 members of staff a year. They are picking up skills in anything from English to plastering and digital photography.

Centre co-ordinator and GMB branch secretary Alistair Richardson said: “We didn’t think it would reopen but the management team knew how important it was to upskill.

“If the factory hadn’t reopened people would really have been in trouble. Many of them realised they couldn’t do anything else and are completely dependent on the factory.

“This also came at a time when owner United Biscuits was preparing to switch from paper filing to a computer-based system so it was essential all staff could use a computer.

“We had to upskill everyone to make sure they can keep up with the progress of the company. Everything from production rates and orders to wastage was to be included on the new system.”

Encouraging staff to use the centre has at times been difficult because people can find it embarrassing to admit they need to improve their basic maths and English.

But once they’ve made the decision to sign up many workers are pleasantly surprised and keen to explore what else is available.

Paul Carruthers, 21, has been studying level one numeracy.

He said: “The tutors are really helpful. They’re thinking of starting a computer driving licence course soon and I might have a go at that as well.”

The learning centre offers a wide variety of nationally recognised courses in order to get staff back into the habit of learning and in the right frame of mind to tackle literacy and numeracy qualifications.

Home DIY proved particularly popular in the wake of the floods while English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) is ideal for the foreign workers. ESOL is offered to all contract and agency staff.

Course co-ordinator Kasia Furman came to Carlisle from Poland with her husband Rafan in June 2007.

She started off as an agency worker then about six months later was given a job in the centre.

Kasia said: “I know how people feel because I felt like that when I first came out here.”

Thomas Fisher spends four days on the shop floor and one day in college, a balance he says is just right.

The 20-year-old is in the second year of a five-year mechanical and electrical apprenticeship, working towards a foundation degree.

The former William Howard pupil decided to take the practical route to his qualification rather than go to university and is now learning on the job and undergoes continual assessment.

While his day-to-day duties will depend on what machines need to be fixed or installed, his studies are based on three-month alternate blocks of electrics and mechanics.

Thomas said: “I’m learning a lot and really enjoying it, we’re working to high standards and it’s a relaxed atmosphere to work in. All the engineers are great and if you have a problem they will always help.”

Steven Gowling, engineering operations manager, believes helping workers to gain high level qualifications is good for the company as well as the individual.

He said: “The biggest asset you have is your people. If you train them well they will stay with you, remain loyal and keep the factory running efficiently.”

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