Prudhoe-based tissue maker Essity has launched a new Apprentice Academy to increase skilled manufacturing numbers and raise the standard of apprenticeship delivery in the region.

The company has dispensed with the traditional apprenticeship format to create its own training programme which is delivered entirely on site and is the first of its kind in the North of England.

The scheme is designed to be more efficient than traditional methods. Instead of apprentices spending substantial amounts of time away from the business at college and part on the job, they will be fully trained on site with the industry specific equipment and manufacturing technology on which they will be working.

Through the Apprentice Academy, Essity will deliver its own bespoke programme of theoretical and practical training, which is underpinned by industry recognised and EAL accredited academic qualifications in a bid to nurture a pipeline of new talent in operational and technical engineering.

The project has been in development for more than 12 months with Essity working alongside EAL – the specialist awarding body for engineering and manufacturing qualifications in the UK – to devise each step of the programme.

Essity has invested more than £200k in the project as a strategic response to increasing competition for good engineers and process operators in the UK paper making industry.

The Academy, which includes a state-of-the-art workshop with dedicated practical and academic training facilities, was officially opened by Donato Giorgio, Essity’s Global Supply Chain President, who flew in from Germany for the event.

An audience of VIP guests joined him, including Bryan Futers, Mayor of Prudhoe and chair of the Town Council, Caroline Theobald CBE, North East and Northumberland chair of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce, John-Paul Nesbitt, assistant headteacher at Prudhoe Community High School, the Essity team, and apprentices old and new.

Donato said: “It’s an honour to be here today – this is all about what this company wants to be, and it’s in Essity’s DNA to invest in its people. Increasingly, winning is not about individuals, but about teams and providing opportunity.

“We are working to eliminate barriers to wellbeing and it’s our strong belief that we do this by being well-integrated into the local community, supporting the capabilities of our employees and getting the best out of them.

“This approach is what we believe makes a difference for this business and makes us a great role model for others to follow. We believe that investing in our people will give us an important competitive edge in the global market.”

Clare Stewart, Essity HR Manager, said: “I am extremely excited about the opportunity we have created as our ambition is to attract, enthuse and invest in local talent, offering people the opportunity to earn while they learn with a guaranteed, full time, permanent job at the end of the programme.

“By throwing out the rule book around traditional apprenticeship delivery, our approach aims to raise the standard of provision locally and within our industry. Bringing our training programme in-house for process and technical operators will create new job opportunities for local people that offer apprentices a practical alternative to further education or even a change in career path.

“It’s our hope the Academy will inspire a new generation of process operators and engineers, especially women, to see apprenticeships as a rewarding and worthwhile career with genuine prospects, it is our ambition by 2025 to have an all-female apprentice cohort in one of our intakes.”

The Apprentice Academy will train apprentices from all age ranges on process and technical engineering pathways in two intakes a year – in September and March.

Its first cohort of manufacturing process apprentices began training in September and the Mill is currently seeking applications for 2023.

In the long term, Essity has plans to offer its Apprentice Academy facilities and trainers to local engineering and manufacturing companies of all sizes, including SMEs and large-scale manufacturers who require high quality, bespoke apprentice training which is delivered locally and fully in line with their business needs.

It will also use the Academy to train apprentices from its other mills in the UK and Europe.

Essity Prudhoe Mill currently employs 400 people and is the second largest manufacturing employer in Northumberland. It manufactures paper-based consumer and trade products – including household favourites Velvet and Cushelle toilet tissue, as well as Tork hand towels used extensively in the NHS.