Ahead of this week's Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards, we focus on one of our finalists and the impact apprenticeships have had at Priory Cast Products.
Priory Cast Products has been owned and managed by Yunus Ascott and Eliza Higginbottom since 2018. Freemen of the prestigious Goldsmiths' Company, the pair bring their extensive background in jewellery, fine art and restoration to the business, whilst continuing to build on the foundry's reputation for quality detailed metal castings.
As specialists in the ancient, high-precision process of lost wax casting, Yunus Ascott and Eliza Higginbottom know a thing or two about investment. The duo has owned and managed Kingham-based Priory Cast Products since 2018, devoting themselves to creating high-quality, fine-detail metal castings and more recently, to developing the next generation of skilled foundry workers.
Eliza and Yunus have long believed in providing opportunities to learn in a different way. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and a growing industry-wide skills shortage, this interest in education soon led them to the decision to take on an apprentice.
Having previously received support through OxLEP Business (winning ‘Best Use of Grant Funding’ at the OxLEP Business Awards 2019), Eliza and Yunus turned again to OxLEP for support in establishing their new apprenticeship scheme. “We saw Apprenticeships as a bit of a ‘dark art", says Eliza. “OxLEP Skills helped us to make sense of it all and get started.”
The OxLEP Skills team set the pair on the right track by helping to fine-tune their apprenticeship offering, putting them in touch with the training providers and an apprenticeship levy transfer partner to help cover training costs.
In September 2020, Dan Hemming joined Priory Cast Products as a Level 3 (Advanced) Foundry Technician Apprentice. An advanced apprenticeship is equivalent to two good a-level passes and generally takes two to four years to complete.
“This apprenticeship has been really insightful into the world of foundry work”, says Dan. “I wanted to be an apprentice as I feel as though learning whilst working is more effective for me, as I have a physically productive learning style, alongside the obvious benefit of getting paid. I get to work with my hands and that is why I chose to apply for this position.
“A typical day for me is a 9am to 5pm shift and during this time I am responsible for emptying water tanks, cleaning imperfections on the surface of any metal work that is going out, as well as producing the wax components for casting at the end of the week.”
This first foray has proved such a success that Eliza and Yunus have since taken on a second candidate, George, meaning that one-third of their six-strong team is comprised of apprentices.
Together, the two apprentices attend the National Foundry Training Centre in Tipton, West Midlands, for one week per month. Both are supported with travel and accommodation costs while in attendance.
Eliza and Yunus are closely involved in all aspects of their learning, with online employer drop-in sessions aiding their understanding of the qualification, how it supports the specialist nature of the business, and the optional pathway decision to be made for both apprentices in the near future.
They conduct regular performance reviews with Dan and George, as does the college. “Communication is great with the college, giving a good feeling of cohesion for the apprentices and us as their employer. Their college mentors have started visiting the foundry to meet them face to face, which wasn’t able to happen during lockdown, so that helps them to feel supported.”
Dan and George’s growth is evident and not only in their metal casting capabilities. Both are gaining confidence, independence, and learning invaluable employability skills.
“Yunus and I believe that if you treat people as if they are capable then they will be”, says Eliza. “Yunus effectively trained as an apprentice – although not through a formal scheme – and is now passing on those skills to next generation. We both gain a lot of satisfaction from training our apprentices, as we are passionate about developing young people and creating something with longevity.
“Of course, we employ our apprentices with the intention to retain them in the business, but if one of them were to move to a bigger foundry, we would see that as positive, as we had brought them into the industry, helping to create a skilled workforce for our sector.”
Priory Cast Products will feature as a finalist in the Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards 2022 Apprenticeship Employer of the Year (less than 250 employees) category (sponsored by Assure UK).
The Awards will celebrate apprenticeship successes from across the county on Thursday 19 May 2022. tune into the ceremony from 7pm to find out the winners.
Whether you’re a small business or a large corporation, apprenticeships can work for you. Employers considering or wanting support with apprenticeships can contact the OxLEP Skills team.