Better together: collaboration is the key to success

Client: Essity

Brief: How to recruit fresh talent when faced with big skills gaps due to the retirement of long-serving employees

Solution: Succession planning with an innovative apprenticeship scheme. 

With a growing business and a team of happy, long-serving employees on board, the future looked bright for Essity’s Prudhoe Mill. But the low staff turnover threatened to create a major skills crisis until an innovative apprenticeship scheme delivered with Gateshead College prevented the company from becoming a victim of its own success.

 “When I first started, I only had a small number of apprentices to look after,” recalls Ian Callender, apprentice team leader. “But I knew that we’d need dozens more in the long run. Many employees who’d been here for years were due to retire around the same time, leaving big gaps across the business, so we knew we had to really step up our efforts to replace them. 

“Our senior management team looked at all aspects of training to see what we could do to bridge the skills gap and it was agreed that apprenticeships would be a key part of our succession plans going forward.”

Famous for producing Velvet and Cushelle toilet tissue, Essity had launched its apprenticeship scheme back in 2004. Realising that the company needed a radical approach to tackling a potentially crippling skills shortage, Ian worked with Gateshead College to build on the existing programme so apprentices could learn an even wider range of technical skills and spend more time applying their knowledge on the shop floor. More emphasis was placed on the assessment of soft skills and behaviours, such as teamwork, resilience and problem-solving and industry experts have been appointed in each area of the business to mentor and guide the apprentices on their journey. 

It’s an approach that has transformed the apprenticeship programme into a stunning success story, and Ian is quick to recognise the influence of Gateshead College in all of this.

“Working closely with Gateshead College gives us an effective succession plan and allows us to mould our apprentices, giving them the skills we require as a business, whilst still allowing them the freedom to express themselves and forge a career path that’s suitable for them.”

“The college really got to grips with our business, they know what skills we need to achieve our goals,” says Ian. “Crucially, they’ve listened to us, taken on board any changes we’ve had to make within the business and adapted the training to suit.”