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Apprenticeships boost business at Burlington Stone

Published on: Thursday 15th June 2017

The prestigious stone manufacturer is using apprenticeships and further training to enhance production at its site in Kirkby-in-Furness.

With an international reputation for the finest quality stone, Burlington Stone – owned by the Holker Group – is keen to preserve the highest standards of craftmanship while developing interesting careers for young people in Cumbria.

Roofing Manager Rob Cooper, who began his career with the company as an apprentice in 1989, has witnessed first-hand the benefits of the business taking on apprentices.

“From 1991 to 2001, there was a 10-year gap without apprentices, and we recognised the skills gap,” said Rob. “When I was promoted to my role in 2001, the Board of Directors listened to me and allowed the company to get the apprenticeship scheme up and running again.

“I’ve used my own experience of being an apprentice to make the experience more exciting for our current apprentices. The training now covers the whole roofing process, from grading the material and using overhead cranes to move the stone to using steel saws with diamond tips to cut the stone, docking it, riving the slate, dressing it and then packing it.

“It’s a very interesting business, and there are lots of rewards. Our roofing slate goes on to big, prestigious buildings throughout the world so it’s rewarding to see a piece of stone come from the quarry and then see the high-quality finished product.”

Cameron Boyd, 16, is a process manufacturing apprentice at Burlington Stone. After starting his apprenticeship in 2016, Cameron is now benefiting from one-to-one teaching from his experienced colleagues.

“I’m really glad I got into process manufacturing and came to Burlington Stone,” he said. “I’m really enjoying my apprenticeship and the skills I’m learning here will help me in future and increase my opportunities.”

Rob also recognises the benefits of upskilling existing employees, and Burlington Stone has worked with training provider Gen2 to create a development programme for interested members of staff.

“Some of our staff members have been with us for 10 years and are keen to have that opportunity to develop and gain qualifications,” said Rob. “We’ve recognised that this training has built their confidence as they’ve gone above and beyond what they thought they could achieve, so they’re really proud of themselves.

“We can tailor the courses to suit our processes at Burlington Stone and it opens up new opportunities to our workers. They’re really motivated, so we can build on their training over a period of time and explore pathways for leadership.”

Mike Birkett, 36, works as a slate operative at Burlington Stone after joining the company at 18 years old. He has studied for NVQ Levels 1 and 2 in Manufacturing, as well as gaining English and Maths qualifications.

Mike has been inspired by his training, and hopes to develop further with Burlington Stone.

“I’d take the opportunity to do a higher level qualification if it was available to me,” he said. “I have a different perspective on learning and development now than when I was at school.

“I think it’ll benefit the business, as people might be able to step up and be promoted internally if roles become available.

“It’s great that the company is willing to invest in their workers and develop skills and improve the workforce.”

After reflecting on his own experience, Mike is keen to encourage young people in Cumbria to consider an apprenticeship to start their career.

“I’d advise young apprentices to give it a try and stick with Burlington Stone as the company will stick by them,” he said. “The majority of the workforce has been here for a lot of years, which says a lot.

“My son is only three, but when he grows up, I think I’d encourage him to do an apprenticeship. It’s a great way forward into a career in Cumbria.”

Rob added: “We recognised the benefits of apprenticeships and training at Burlington Stone as we want to invest in our employees.

“I’ve been very fortunate with my own development so I always encourage people to take those opportunities when they’re there.

“As a business, we want to celebrate the achievements of our employees.”

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