When manufacturing plant MG Rover went into receivership in 2005, thousands of skilled workers faced a bleak future. While their skills and work ethic were without question, they had to consider retraining to find a job outside a company that many of them had worked at for years.
Immediate help came from the government-funded Rover Rapid Response programme, set up and run by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), which offered retraining at local colleges. Between them, Sutton College, Stourbridge College and Dudley College took on about 80 former Rover workers for a nine-month intensive course to train them as gas installation engineers. This aimed to help them become Corgi-registered so they could work in the gas industry.
To achieve full qualification and their Corgi registration – without which a gas engineer cannot work – each trainee had to complete both college-based training and practical work experience.
While the colleges could provide training, they were not able to find enough work placements to allow the trainees to complete their Corgi registration. This would have made the training useless unless they could provide proof of their competence.
The local LSC turned to the sector skills body Energy & Utility Skills for help.
According to its operations manager, Nick Edwards: “Everybody undergoing retraining as a gas installation engineer needed to find a work placement to complete their course, and we knew there were more former employees who were keen to retrain within the industry too.”
Energy & Utility Skills needed to work quickly to identify work placement opportunities for the 80 trainees, and for about another 40 students who were considering taking the course.
Harnessing its close links to industry, Energy & Utility Skills started to contact all employers across the area to encourage them to offer placements to the trainees.
“It’s a big job to match 80 trainees with suitable companies and persuade them to take on a worker at short notice,” said Edwards. “But each employer recognised that the quality of these trainees was perhaps higher than usual. They were excellent workers, who had lost previous employment through no fault of their own. An employer knows when they are getting a good deal, and that’s just what it was.”
With the trainees in work placements, Energy & Utility Skills turned its attention to the other former staff wanting to work in the gas industry, and made sure they found suitable training and work experience.
Having given the trainees the opportunity they needed to complete their training and obtain Corgi registration, Energy & Utility Skills started to consider how to help them into jobs.
It talked to local businessman Clive Denham, who had seen a gap in the market for gas central heating installation, but needed good quality gas engineers.
This was a great opportunity for him to set up a new business, using highly qualified staff who had not been available the previous year.
Rover Heating was set up in September last year. About 80 of the 120 newly trained gas installation engineers who were formerly MG Rover employees will work for the company on a self-employed basis. Many of the others were either taken on by the firms where they had completed work placements or are now working elsewhere.
Alan Mullins, a former manager at MG Rover’s Longbridge plant, said: “Having retrained thanks to Energy & Utility Skills’ support, my self-esteem has risen and I am happy to be able to work in an industry I enjoy. We all felt we were on the scrapheap, but the training for this was very intense, so my confidence is back.”
Partners in the training programme included boiler manufacturer Worcester Bosch, which provided some of the work experience placements.
Benefits for employers
The entrepreneurial attitude of Denham enabled the launch of a new business offering opportunities for employment, not only for those retraining as gas installation engineers, but also for a number of administration and support staff who had also been victims of the MG Rover collapse.
Denham says: “The whole project has been very successful. Working with all parties, Energy & Utility Skills has ensured the retraining scheme fulfilled all the necessary technical requirements and helped to satisfy skills shortages in the gas industry.”
Rover Heating Ltd launched on 1 December last year, and as gas installation engineers become fully qualified, they will be taken on in teams of four, with the business planning to be up to full strength in early 2007.
1 Energy & Utility Skills operates an independent skills register – the EUSR – which provides a recognised standard across the whole sector. It is delivered via a secure and sophisticated web-enabled framework.
2 The EUSR provides employers with the proof that they have robust mechanisms in place to ensure they only employ competent staff.