Spotlight on apprenticeships

  Wednesday, 20 January 2021 15:45
Spotlight on apprenticeships

New year new career? As we approach National Apprenticeship Week 2023, we invite you to be inspired by our apprentices and graduate trainees by reading their stories as we celebrate their achievements. We’re also delighted to include a brief update from a previous blog interviewee who began her career as an apprentice in construction in 2016 and is now a M&E Manager and STEM ambassador, Georgina Cox of Mace Group.

Focus SB’s very own Managing Director Gary Stevens began his career as a technical apprentice, leaving school at 16 when he was offered the choice of around 11 apprenticeships! He recalls his first day during a recent interview with Ruth Francis, Enterprise Coordinator, the Careers Hub, East Sussex County Council. Gary has never forgotten his apprenticeship roots nor lost his passion for British manufacturing and nurturing young talent into the industry, overseeing the introduction of a successful apprenticeship scheme into the company.

Gary says: “I have been in manufacturing for over 40 years and started life as a technical apprentice. I have seen immense change in the manufacturing world since then and no more than in the last five to 10 years and change is happening more rapidly now than ever. The future of any industry is the people and skills that underpin it and that is no more a true fact than in manufacturing and whilst there is still a requirement for the old traditional craftsman skills in manufacturing, there is a growing demand for people with IT skills, skills in robotics and AI, design and creative skills, sales and marketing skills, HR, accountancy and administrative skills.”

Gary became an Enterprise Adviser in 2017 to help build relations with local schools and colleges. Paired with Bexhill Academy in his role as Enterprise Adviser in January of 2018 Gary explains: “As someone who came through the ranks as an apprentice, I am keen to provide opportunities for young people to join us on our exciting journey and to grow with the company, which is why I have agreed to become an Enterprise Adviser in East Sussex. I am also keen to encourage applicants from all corners of the community with all levels of ability and mobility to contribute to our growth and development as well as theirs.

“At Focus SB we have employed our first apprentice, have widened our own in-house graduate scheme and we have built links with local schools, colleges and universities. I personally have become an Enterprise Adviser and sacrifice some of my time to build relationships with local educators but we all need to do more if we want this valuable asset to remain.”

The Enterprise Adviser role has now been picked up by Jo Cloute and real progress has been made in fostering those relationships.

We were extremely proud to win the Manufacturing Apprenticeship/Training Scheme Award at Insider's Made in the South East Awards ceremony in November 2022.

SIGTA Ltd group training association which has been running since 1964 has worked with Focus SB for some years providing training and is a not for profit company with charitable status based in Brighton.

Darryl Kingshott

Darryl Kingshott, Training Officer and Centre Co-ordinator at SIGTA says: “Focus SB has supported apprenticeships for some time. We currently have one toolmaker, Ryan, and another two apprentices Cameron and Anni there who are working towards their warehousing apprenticeships.

“We work with a huge variety of employers from small to large, identifying training needs, setting up and managing apprenticeships specifically in engineering, electrical electronics, manufacturing, maintenance, welding and fabrication, technical support and business administration. We draw funding from the ESFA - Education and Skills Funding Agency to help fund apprenticeships.

“Managing apprentices is a very rewarding role, all the way through their apprenticeship from the beginning when we meet and interview them, right through to the end when we are signing them off and presenting them with their apprenticeship certificate. I have managed hundreds of apprentices over the years, seeing them grow and mature over their duration, and ultimately achieving their apprenticeship. It’s the beginning of the rest of their career. Many SIGTA managed apprentices go on to bigger and better roles in life, climbing the career ladder and reaching the pinnacle in different industries, from becoming a highly skilled craftsperson, supervisor, manager, director, or even setting up their own business. Whether it be working on prototype powertrains in future cars, medical devices, maintaining the Shard in London, facilities management in a hospital, scientific devices, or even machining aircraft parts. It gives them the foundation, confidence, skills, knowledge and behaviours to become not just an engineer, but a good engineer!”

Cameron Durrant - Supply Chain Warehouse Operative apprenticeship
Cameron talks about his role and shares his experience working at Focus SB with Ruth Francis, Enterprise Coordinator, the Careers Hub, East Sussex County Council, telling her about his ambition to work his way up to a management position. Listen to Cameron's full interview.

Ruth Francis comments: "Gary and Cameron did a fantastic job of explaining to Bexhill Academy students how an apprenticeship can pave the way to an inspiring career."

Employees that have completed their apprenticeship

Ryan Edwards - Manufacturing Engineer 
Part way through studying for his Level 3 engineering qualification at Hastings college after joining our apprenticeship scheme straight from school, Ryan was nominated for The Manufacturer’s Top100 award by managing director Gary Stevens. When Ryan was asked ‘Why did you choose a manufacturing engineering apprenticeship?’ during an interview for Focus SB’s blog he says: “In July 2018 I felt inspired to apply to join Focus SB as an apprentice straight from school after looking at the company’s website.”

Ryan Edwards

Darryl Kingshott, SIGTA recalls: “Ryan started at a very young age, fresh from school. He's made the transition to working life really well. Having fitted in with, and had a warm welcome from all his colleagues, who really help support and train him. In addition, he attends college to gain essential skills and knowledge to aid him towards achieving his apprenticeship which he started in September 2018. He's making great progress, with lots of positive feedback from his employer. SIGTA also works closely with the college to monitor and obtain feedback regarding his studies. I too did my apprenticeship through SIGTA many years ago! I also trained to be a precision toolmaker, just like Ryan, which is regarded as a highly skilled job, needing lots of attention to detail, and a broad understanding of manufacturing techniques.”

In July 2022 Ryan successfully completed his apprenticeship achieving a Distinction in EAL Level 3 diploma in Advanced Manufacturing. He has since gained his forklift licence!

Anni Sanders - Supply Chain Warehouse Operative
Anni tells us: “I was interested in starting an apprenticeship at Focus SB because it was the path I wanted to go down and something different than going to college, every day here is never the same and I like that.

Anni Sanders

“I found out about the company through my Mum and when we went to the apprenticeship roadshow in Hastings, Focus SB had a stand there and it looked interesting so as my Mum knew Jo, the HR & Customer Aftercare Manager I asked if I could come and do work experience for a week, I did it and loved it so when I left school this year I applied for the apprenticeship.

“The COVID situation has been challenging as you have to keep everyone around you safe as well as yourself.”

Jo Cloute, HR & Customer Aftercare Manager, Focus SB describes Anni’s role: “Anni’s apprenticeship is supply chain warehouse operative. Anni is being trained in goods inward/despatch, stores and assembly, her role involves taking deliveries, checking for damaged/missing items, storing goods, moving stock by various methods, picking/packing orders, getting goods ready for dispatch, maintaining stock records, health and safety, manual handling and using all forms of documentation throughout these areas.”

Focus SB Jo Cloute
Jo Cloute

Jo comments: “I am an advocate of the apprenticeship schemes as I truly believe it is a fantastic way to learn a trade and get paid at the same time, plus it is not just for school leavers you can be apprentice at any age or from any educational background, so if perhaps you didn’t do so well at school or you just want to change your career path, then an apprenticeship could be the answer."

“At Focus we are very proud that due to our employees' hard work over this very difficult year we have been able to employ a new warehouse apprentice Anni, as according to our training provider SIGTA, due to the impact of COVID-19 on their business a lot of companies have had to let their apprentice go or have not employed any new ones.”

Anni has successfully completed her apprenticeship and was thrilled to receive her certificate in March 2022. In December 2022 Anni was recognised in The Manufacturer Top 100 Young Pioneer category as someone ‘who has made an impact disproportionate to their years, providing inspiration for the future of manufacturing in the UK’. She has since gained her forklift licence!

Maureen Courty - accounting apprenticeship up to AAT Level 4
Maureen Courty, Purchase Ledger Clerk, succeeded in gaining The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) qualification, supported by Focus SB sponsorship. Maureen also had to complete an English course alongside this at the beginning. Nominated by her tutor at East Sussex College for 'Best Progression' award in 2019, Maureen was presented with a certificate by Councillor Rupert Simmons, at the East Sussex Apprenticeship Awards ceremony for her Professional Accounting Taxation Certificate Level 4 qualification.

Maureen Courty receives her award

Maureen tells us: "I first showed interest in accounting when I was an assistant manager for a chain restaurant in London. I used to check the profit or loss report every month and investigate any variances with the previous month and try to find ways of cutting down expenses to maximise profit for the branch. I eventually decided to start the accounting course and knew that if I could complete it, it would be a great personal achievement and it would also mean a better employment prospect, better wages and therefore a better life for my children and I.

"To be nominated means that my hard work has paid off. The best feeling is that someone has recognised it and noticed my hard work, perseverance, commitment and success in exams. It's a very rewarding feeling to know that my success and dedication have attracted the attention of someone and this person thinks I should win the award.

"Being nominated for this award reflects how dedicated and hard working Focus SB's employees are. It will make the company stand out and attract more apprentices. This nomination sends a message out to all apprentices, to always push yourself as it pays off.

“It's a great benefit for my career because it distinguishes me from others should I want to apply for a new job. Indeed, not many people have been nominated for an award in their life and this is an experience I will always remember and be proud of."

The 2019 Awards Ceremony

Colleague Andrew Lanworn, Finance Manager and Company Secretary at Focus SB, St Leonards on Sea comments: "When Maureen joined us in July 2016 she had already completed level 2 of the AAT qualification at East Sussex College, but she had no accounts work experience.

"We employed her with the aim of fulfilling the Purchase ledger role but also developing her overall accounts knowledge to cover and grow into different aspects of accounts.
"So we sponsored her to go to Sussex Downs college to complete the AAT qualification which she has now gained and she is the only person in the company besides myself and chairman Roger Kemp who is a qualified accountant.

"We are all delighted with the progress she has made and she is already an important member of the team and I see her role growing in the coming years."

Graduate training scheme

Stephen Cloute – Quality Technician
Stephen attended Sussex Coast College Hastings, achieving A-levels in fine art, photography, and graphics. He then studied at the University of Brighton, completing a Bachelor’s degree in contemporary fine art. This involved putting on art exhibitions in the local community in Hastings.

Upon completing his degree, he joined Focus SB as a temp in August of 2017. After an initial 6 month trial, he was offered a full time role in the company in January of 2018 joining Focus SB's successful Graduate Training Programme.

This resulted in him working in every department in the company to learn about the processes involved in manufacturing, with a focus on joining the Quality department when the programme came to an end after 12 months.

Stephen Cloute

Utilising his art education on materials, process development and control he was able to easily convert those skills into his role in the Quality department, and settled in swiftly due to the speed that he was able to learn new processes along with his hard work.

He bolstered his role by going on to complete Quality qualifications including ISO:9001 with BSI, ISO:19011 with Benchmark, and First Aid training with plans for external training on Health and Safety ISO:45001/18001 in the future.

He has become proficient in many engineering, calibration and electrical methods which have been learned in house with the aid of senior members of the production staff. Skills which have been learned in over two years that he has been employed at Focus SB, and he has further plans to increase his knowledge of Quality systems, Health and Safety models and anything else which arises that will aid in his job role.

His background in art gives him a creative outlook on traditional engineering processes and systems used at Focus SB which allows him to strive for continual improvement for both himself, the company and the team he is a part of.

Stephen was nominated for the Young Pioneer award in The Manufacturer’s Top100 in 2019 by his line manager Mick Hindle, our Quality Control and Health and Safety Manager, for adopting his role as Quality and Health and Safety Assistant within the company with consistent enthusiasm and dedication. Part of his training was to spend time in certain departments and write reports on where the company could improve.

Mick Hindle comments: “Stephen is a testament of how Focus SB’s graduate training programme can take someone with no prior manufacturing knowledge, and yet with the right training and mentoring, has given Focus SB an extremely valuable addition to the quality team. We are extremely proud at how far Stephen has come in such a short time, and he sets the bar very high for future graduate trainees.”

Stephen has now been promoted to Quality and Health & Safety Manager

Sid Bullimore - Purchasing, Planning and Control Manager
Sid joined Focus SB as a management trainee on the graduate scheme in 2015 after achieving a BTEC Nat Dip Music Technology at Hastings College and BA(Hons) Music Production and Creative Recording at the University of Brighton.

In his spare time, Sid used to DJ at various venues in Hastings and has recorded a couple of bands (who lasted about as long as the recording session!) and put on a few gigs in Hastings and Eastbourne.

Sid says: "Nowadays I produce music myself in my home studio, which I try to spend at least a couple of hours in every week."

Since joining us Sid has worked in every department and used that knowledge when joining the Purchasing / Quality / H&S team at the end of the year’s training.

He has been on training courses for IOSH Managing Health & Safety and ISO 9001 Certification and managed our Quality System in 2017, making a few improvements to processes (Sid says: "many, many more have been made by Stephen above!"), updating our COSHH register and maintaining MSDS sheets, as well as working with external auditors for our QMS audit.

Sid was one of the team of “geniuses” when we changed over to Epicor, which included learning the new software inside out and helping other members of staff with the transition.

Moving on to train in Production Planning with Chris Turner our General Manager Sid then moved into a new combined role of Planning and Purchasing in 2018.

Sid says: “Now I manage the day-to-day release of work for production, finishing and assembly, host monthly forecasting meetings and weekly purchasing meetings to ensure (as best as I can) that everything flows through the business smoothly and we maintain healthy levels of stock on product components. Although this has been a struggle in post-Brexit / Covid times!

Sid Bullimore

“I was working in a call centre before I joined Focus, as job opportunities in Hastings were few and far between. I only applied because I saw they were looking for a graduate trainee, and had no idea about manufacturing at all! It’s encouraging that I could come in with no experience and within five years, I was managing the workload for two departments. My degree included a lot of studio work, which is all based on computers. This has aided me in being able to pick up new systems (Epicor, Intrasoft).

“Also, all music is math! So that’s helped with the millions of spreadsheets I create when forecasting product usage and comparing historical data with current trends.

He continues: “Good things Focus SB does includes the work we do with Little Gate Farm which is great. There is still a bit of stigma around people with disabilities working and it’s a public mindset that needs to change. Everyone we’ve had from Little Gate has come in and worked hard and been a valuable member of the team.

“We’ve also been at the forefront of building business relationships overseas in a post Brexit world. We’re fortunate that through the hard work that Duncan our Head of Strategic Partnerships and other members of the senior management team have done, that we’re a pretty big name in the China-Britain Business council and we have both suppliers and customers in China which has helped us battle shortfalls in business and supply chain issues that have plagued many businesses.

“We’ve recently had solar panels installed on the roof at Napier Road, and by the look of the changes in the energy price cap, it was at exactly the right time!

“This is really going to help with manufacturing costs going forward and will hopefully mean we can continue to offer our products at competitive prices… I’ve even been researching how long a power cable I can get so that I can siphon off some of that energy for my home!”

Duncan Ray says: “Sid joined Focus SB via our graduate scheme in 2015 and has since learnt and experienced all aspects of the business as he progressed through multiple roles. Since completing scheme Sid acquired the skills and understanding to handle the purchasing and production planning, Helping to ensure the best customer experience possible. Sid’s skills and enthusiasm have made him a vital cog in the wheels of Focus SB now and for the future.”

Georgina Cox - Mace Limited
Georgina Cox was featured on Focus SB’s blog in December 2018. We’re delighted to include the latest update to her career and words of encouragement to those considering a STEM career. Georgina is currently an M&E Manager at Mace and has worked in several sectors across the Mace business and is currently within the Public Estates, Research, Education, Arts and Culture and Healthcare (PREACH) division on the London School of Economics (LSE) Paul Marshall Building. She was previously working through her apprenticeship under Mace starting in 2016 whilst completing an NVQ Level 4 and HNC. She is currently completing her BEng in Building Services Engineering at London South Bank University on day release. Alongside this, Georgina also contributes with school and college career events sharing her experience and is a STEM ambassador- particularly to younger women to encourage a potential future within the STEM field. With this experience and ability, Georgina was successfully able to obtain her Technical Membership (TMIET) with the IET in July 2020.

Georgina recalls: “Starting my career path in 2016 as an apprentice, I would never have imagined the progressive steps that were possible for me to take to now say that I am a Manager. Making every opportunity a position to learn and absorbing as much as I can from the people surrounding me has been important for my development. I have had some difficult lessons to learn and have found myself in challenging positions, but these have grown me as a person ready for the next steps ahead! I have learnt to never underestimate small beginnings and never let your background become a personal hindrance to opportunities you can take.”

Georgina Cox MEP Manager Construction, UK, image courtesy of Mace

Mace Group is a WISE campaign ambassador. In a recent RIBAJ article by Rosa Turner Wood, Architectural Assistant at Studio Arkell Ltd writes “according to WISE, the body encouraging women and girls into careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, women account for only 22% of the STEM workforce” (15th September 2020).


Our Managing Director Gary Stevens is quoted during a House of Commons speech made by Hastings and Rye Conservative MP Sally-Ann Hart following her factory tour in 2021. Video clip courtesy of The Careers & Enterprise Company supported by East Sussex Careers Hub.

Why not discover if a career in mechanical engineering or a role as an Enterprise Adviser is for you?

Visit Focus SB careers.

Discover more about becoming an Enterprise Adviser or find out how to become an Enterprise Adviser in East Sussex.

Useful information:

Learn more about apprenticeships and opportunities in your area at the Government website.

Find out more about National Apprenticeship Week 2023 theme #SkillsforLife.

Apprenticeships logo
Inspiring and supporting young women into science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers, be inspired by award-winning social enterprise Stemettes.

Post updated September 2023.

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