From apprenticeship to leadership

Recently, my colleague Richard Griffin wrote about the future of energy and how we’re making sure HSP Valves is fit for purpose strategically and technically, as the world transitions to a new energy economy.

But beyond investing in products and services to support our clients in their journeys to tomorrow’s energy solutions, we’re also investing in developing another key asset that will be fundamental to our success as a business in the years to come: our people.

Obviously, this involves making sure our teams have the right skills and qualifications to best serve the current and future needs of our customers. But it also means ensuring we have a pipeline of young, motivated talent we can develop to support HSP’s growth. We were an 32-strong team when I joined in 2005. We’re now 52-strong, so future-proofing our business with the right recruitment strategy at all levels of the organisation will be essential.

We can’t predict the future, but we can prepare for it

This is why we’ve recently created our own Modern Apprenticeship Programme in collaboration with Peterhead Engineers Development Ltd (PEDL), and taken on two apprentices. And we plan to build on this and take on new apprentices each year for the foreseeable future.

I know the value of apprenticeships first hand, because in 1986 I started my career on a mechanical apprenticeship programme at the North of Scotland HydroElectric Board (which later became SSE.

After four years of high-quality and motivating training, I moved from the Scottish Highlands to Aberdeen (when the oil industry was growing), to join Crosby Valves, which was later acquired by FMC, then again by Tyco. It seems I’ve been unable to leave the valve industry ever since (😉).

From apprenticeship to leadership

Post-apprenticeship, and acquisitions aside, I’ve only had two employers including HSP, which I joined in 2005 as General Manager. I then moved to Director and Sales Director roles, before becoming Managing Director in 2016, and co-owner of the business in 2022.

Put simply, my apprenticeship fostered my motivation and ambition. I wasn’t especially academic at school, but I was much stronger in technical subjects, particularly technical drawing. And in those days, you didn’t have the option of university unless your parents could fund it. So for most, it was a choice of either farming, forestry, or the construction industry, and I was lucky enough to get into the hydroelectric industry.

Graduates or apprentices: who’s better?

In a previous role at a different company we employed graduates straight from university and, while they’re typically bright, enthusiastic, and hardworking, they can’t compete with those who’ve been through the apprenticeship route and experienced practical learning and on-the-job training.

Of the 15 or so graduates we recruited, only two or three stayed in the industry. The others soon decided that it wasn’t the career for them or that the allure of the valve industry didn’t appeal, so in that way apprenticeships provide a better grounding in, and realistic picture of, what a job entails day-to-day.

I was really pleased with the response we had when we recruited for the programme. We had over 70 applicants, which I think speaks volumes about how much interest there is in this route into employment. And industry seems to be responding, too, with many more companies, including HSP, recognising their value and taking on apprentices to build for the future.

An unequalled opportunities employer

The four-year Modern Apprenticeship in Engineering programme we’ve created will equip our two apprentices – through a mix of classroom and on-the-job training – with the technical skills, knowledge, and qualifications they’ll need to become Valve Technicians. They’ll also spend time in different parts of the business, so they’ll have as many opportunities as possible to experience different roles in areas like Quality Assurance, Project Management, and Sales. Roles they may want to specialise in as their careers develop.

We’re chuffed to bits with the programme that my colleague Nicki Webster, HSP’s Group Engineering Manager (and former apprentice), has put together with the help of PEDL. And we’ll look to refine the programme each year to suit the evolving needs of our business and customers.

The proven power of apprenticeships

Besides me, many HSP people started their careers as apprentices before joining us. My co-owner and HSP’s Sales Director, Richard Griffin, did an avionics apprenticeship with the RAF, becoming an Aircraft Engineer fixing and maintaining Harrier and Tornado fast jets. He used the training and experience he gained from his RAF apprenticeship to later join Panasonic as a Design Engineer. Though I’m not sure how useful it was when he worked as a postman, or an apple picker and tree pruner in Australia!

Another point I want to make is that while we aren’t a valve manufacturer, most of our people have worked for a valve manufacturer during their careers. Manufacturers that spring to mind include Tomoe Valve, Crosby Valves, Morgan Advanced Materials, Keystone, Biffi, Neway, and Rotork to name a few.

Fulfilling potential means fulfilling careers

Of course, an apprenticeship is only one way into our industry, and we’re keen to help people play top their strengths and  develop their skills – no matter who they are, what stage of their career they’re at, or how they found their way to HSP.

For example, in January we identified Jake Sowerby, part of our Inside Sales team at HSP, as a potential future leader and nominated him for the BVAA’s Future Leadership Programme (FLP). Each year, the FLP puts 10-12 young individuals through a series of personal development and leadership sessions. It also includes best practice lectures, experience days, and visits to valve industry sites and centres of engineering excellence.

I’m really pleased to see the development of initiatives like BVAA’s FLP and the Modern Apprenticeships Programme that will ensure we have the right people, in the right jobs, with the right technical and leadership skills to take our industry forward – and through the inevitable energy transition.

Until recently, our business didn’t have the requirement or the resources to dedicate to bringing on apprentices. But now, as we plan for the future, they’ll be a key part of our short, medium, and long-term planning.

Lastly, I sometimes find myself wondering what my career path would have looked like had I not chosen to do an apprenticeship all those years ago. Who knows, I might still be a mechanical fitter in a power station in the Scottish Highlands? Not a bad life by any means, but looking back on my 30+ year career journey, none of it would have happened had I not done that apprenticeship. And for that, I’m immensely grateful.

Author: client

Share article:

Back to Blog