Henry Inman is a remarkable champion of lifelong learning. His influence on Richmond Frozen Confectionery’s employees – and the prisoners on work placements there – has made continuous development a way of life. By Stephanie Sparrow
Sophisticated technology and strict hygiene regulations fail to diminish the magic of touring Richmond Frozen Confectionery’s ice-cream factory.
Although the ingredients are encased in external silos until computers trigger their journey into the building through gleaming steel pipe-work, the aromas escape, tantalising the visitor’s nose.
Seeing the ice-cream hit the tubs is a child’s dream. Chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ooze from a trio of pipes to form perfect boxes of soft scoop Neapolitan. In a separate area a sophisticated banoffee mixture is swirled into chic 500ml pots for the adult market.
The factory fulfils all childhood expectations, but the workforce defies the stereotypes of a factory floor. From beneath their hygiene regulation headgear, the faces reveal a cross-section of society in terms of sex, race and age.
The company is proud of its innovative employment practices and its subscription to New Deal, National Traineeship and Modern Apprenticeship programmes. Richmond Frozen Confectionery is the only provider in North Yorkshire for food and drink Modern Apprenticeships and National Traineeships and it is an award-winning provider of training and work placements for prisoners.
The factory is in Leeming Bar, the North Yorkshire base of Richmond Frozen Confectionery, the UK’s largest independent manufacturer of ice-cream, dominating the supply of own-label products to major food retailers.
Richmond also owns the Treats ice-lolly brand based in Crossgates, West Yorkshire, which it bought in a reverse takeover in 1998.
Workforce numbers at Leeming Bar have grown from 20 in 1990 to a current 210. This expansion, matched by investment in sophisticated technology, has pushed the factory to be recognised as one of the most efficient in Europe.
Solid training initiatives – there are 130 employees taking NVQs at the moment – and high-profile activities, have moved in parallel with this growth. The annual spend on training at Richmond – including funding from the Tecs and DfEE – is 1 per cent of turnover.
At the centre of this activity is training development and human resources manager Henry Inman, a determined Yorkshireman well-known throughout the region for his training evangelism and unofficial ambassadorship of IIP.
He successfully project managed IIP at his previous employer WCF Foods before seeing it through to recognition at Richmond.
He joined Richmond in 1998 to formalise its training function. The company has engineered a culture change from dependency on external training consultants with ad hoc activities to running its own educational institution, says Inman.
Since he joined Richmond, he has put a lot of building blocks into place establishing the Leeming Bar site as an approved centre for City & Guilds, GNVQ and NEBS.
"An educational institution makes sense for us," he says. "It is a statement of intent and gives our employees transferable credit."
Progression to IIP
He is now advising and mentoring on progression to IIP at the Crossgates site, with Richmond’s suppliers and to other employers in the region.
"We think of our suppliers as stakeholders and if they think that their business will support IIP, why not have a look at it? We run a one-day diagnostic for them," he says. "IIP is like a coat-hanger, he says. "It provides a basis to hang quality initiatives on."
Here is someone who is not befuddled by the bureaucracies of NVQs but who gets excited about the discipline of "logical incrementalism" which they inspire.
"Our process standards are written à la NVQ," says Inman, referring to the standards written specifically at Richmond to ensure that operatives and team leaders understand the technical complexities of their job role, looking at not only how a machine works but how it is linked into cost leaders and maximum efficiency.
NVQs are used as a benchmark for the company. "They are used as a point of reference for skills required in internal job advertisements," says Inman.
No one is forced to take NVQs but Richmond gives everybody the opportunity to take them and looks for alternative ways of developing people if they don’t want to participate.
Learning for everybody
Inman believes that training is for everybody. He embodies lifelong learning himself as he has progressed from a hard-working farmer’s son who rejected the idea of college until his early 20s in favour of work experience on the family farms, to someone with a crateful of academic and vocational qualifications who will start a doctorate at Durham University this autumn.
He is passionate about other people’s development, frequently referring to the buzz he gets from the "self-actualisation" of others, such as an employee rejected by the education system who achieved NVQ Level 2 in middle age.
The company was the "innovative practice award" winner at last year’s Investors in People ceremony for its use of work placements for prisoners.
Inman sees no difference in the training needs and aspirations of the prisoners who travel 25 miles from Kirklevington Grange Prison in Cleveland. Neither does anyone else in the factory, he claims.
"At first the situation was that nobody knew there were serving prisoners in the factory," he says. "No one could see the difference because they weren’t treated differently and now we are totally upfront about it." The prisoners are treated exactly the same as everyone else, he says.
"We have inductions for prisoners, New Dealers, Modern Apprenticeships, the whole lot, it doesn’t matter, it is totally equal opportunities. When we evaluate the induction it is great to see what some of prisoners write on the evaluation form. They feel that they are regaining their self-respect," he says.
The prisoners are category D which means that they are in the final stages of their sentence and considered to be of minimum risk to the general public if they escape en route to work.
"They are paid the same rate as other employees and in terms of employment law we deal with them exactly as we would the others," says Inman, who conducts job interviews at the prison. "The only caveat to that is that they remain under prison jurisdiction. We liaise with the prison over what time they should leave Kirklevington to travel to a shift, and take into account the journey times so that we can estimate what time they will arrive with us because they can use their own vehicles."
But there are checks. "Prison officers come here and do audits. If they step out of line the prison will come down here to collect them," he says.
The benefits to the prisoners, says Inman, are, "They get work experience, money and if they have worked well they will get a reference and could be offered a job. If they stay with us long enough they can create evidence towards NVQs. One Kirklevington lad who left us got his train the trainer and team leadership process standards and his food hygiene certificate, that’s a good portfolio of documents."
Of course altruism is not the only reason that Richmond employs the prisoners. The Leeming Bar site is in an affluent area of low unemployment, less than 2 per cent, competing with many other food factories, so imaginative recruitment and training go hand in hand to plug the gaps.
Reputation for training
But because the company is building a reputation for training, with full support from the manufacturing director – Inman’s hotline to the board – and giving it a high profile in areas such as the annual report and accounts, potential employees are coming forwards all the time.
"Sixth formers are seeing our Modern Apprenticeships scheme and asking what it is about. They now see it as an alternative to college and stay here for a three-year apprenticeship instead," says Inman.
Last year the company was in the top ten contenders for three national IIP award categories: outstanding practice award, the innovative practice award and the key champion award. It eventually won the innovative practice award but there were other surprises too. The high profile activities led to it winning The Yorkshire Award for Employment Creation and a National Training Award for the most outstanding newly recognised IIP company in the North Yorkshire Tec region.
Inman’s next stage is to see through the benefits of IIP, which includes 22 employees studying for their Diploma in Business Excellence.
"Richmond is a dynamic company which has traditionally placed an intense focus on operations in order to give customer satisfaction. We are now taking a more holistic approach as an Investor in People with a passionate belief in employee development and the achievement of business excellence," he says.
He is also going to complete an MBA, prepare for his studies with Durham University which will look at educational management of team leaders in a manufacturing environment, and continue to promote the benefits of IIP in the region.
CV Henry Inman
1971-1983 Working on family farms
1979 Diploma in agriculture with distinction
1983-1986 Set up a farm shop
1986-1994 Various supervisory and management jobs, WCF Foods
1994-1998 Production manager with whole site personnel and training responsibilities, WCF Foods
1998 Training, development and human resources manager, Richmond Frozen Confectionery
1982-1991 Various food hygiene and quality management qualifications
1995 NVQ Level 5 in Management BTEC
1997 BA in Business Administration
1998 Advanced Diploma in Adult & Continuing Education
1999 PGCE in Education, MA in Education