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Exam success for Nerak apprentice

Exam success for Nerak apprentice

An apprentice with Nerak Wiese, the vertical conveyor specialist, recently passed his mid-course exams at distinction level. 

Oliver Davies, 21, will complete his two-year Mechanical Engineering apprenticeship this year and is looking forward to a career with the Brecon-based company. “We are delighted with Ollie’s success,” commented John Oakley, Nerak’s Managing Director. “He was the first of our three apprentices and he has set a high standard for his peers to follow.” 

Apprenticeships have proven to be a win-win solution for Nerak, an engineering company employing some 30 people. “When we made the decision to invest in apprenticeships, there was an element of risk,” admits John Oakley. “Ollie was clearly conscientious, bright and enthusiastic but he didn’t have the necessary skills that we needed right away. However, we sensed that he was capable of them. He has proven his abilities and we are really proud of him.”

Oliver is equally pleased that he took the apprenticeship route: “Currently I’m working four days a week with Nerak and in college on the fifth day from 9am to 7pm, covering subjects such as maths, mechanical principles, health and safety, computer-aided design and CNC. Then there’s the coursework as well, so it’s quite intensive but it’s definitely worth it. What you learn in college is useful but it’s when you’re learning on the job that you really get to grips with things. Compared to friends of my age, I earn much more and I always have the support I need from the team at Nerak.” Oliver – who has set his sights on becoming a production supervisor, overseeing on-site engineering – has a mature outlook: “There’s a loyalty that exists. I know how much they are investing in me and I want to make sure I do my best.”

Earning while learning
The company’s other two apprentices are Lewis Jones, also studying Mechanical Engineering, and Jemma Morris, who is following a Business Administration course. Lewis, 17 and in his first year of Mechanical Engineering Level 3, attends college full-time and works for Nerak when his schedule allows. “Nerak has a really family feel to it,” he says. “We work hard together and I enjoy the banter as well as the work ethos.” Jemma, 22, is on a five-year course, currently working through Business Administration NVQ Level 4 and loving it. “The opportunity to earn while I learn is massive for me,” she says. “When I started, I actually enrolled on a Level 2 course but after the first couple of months I was moved to Level 4 when Nerak recognised I could do much more; that was a big confidence boost. I can’t emphasise enough how special doing this apprenticeship has been,” she continues. “It’s really allowed me the chance to build a career, not just have a job.”

Talent to feed growth
With Nerak’s experience having been so positive, the company plans to continue investing in apprenticeships. “The development of apprenticeships has become something of a necessity for us,” explains John Oakley. “We recognised several years ago that we needed to have this kind of talent programme in our long-term plans and we intend to enrol many more apprentices as the business grows.”

Employment and training of young people is very welcome in the Brecon area. “We are based in a beautiful part of Wales and we want to support our local community,” says John Oakley, “as well as the engineering industry as a whole. Our intention is to employ all our apprentices in their fully-fledged roles at the end of the apprenticeship period. We pay them well above the standard rate,” he continues, “because we want them to feel valued; they are also eligible for our profit share scheme from the outset. We make sure they are not given menial jobs, as sometimes happens in other companies. Their tasks are always focused on building their skills and our expectations of them are high. They are given regular reviews and we go to their colleges to meet their tutors to discuss progress. They will continue to be given every opportunity to build on their learning and evolve with the business. The sky’s the limit, in our eyes. Of course, this comes at a cost,” admits John Oakley, “especially as we place the apprentices with our most skilled people so that they can learn at the highest levels. We believe that you have to recognise that your efficiencies will dip as mentors focus on supporting the apprentice, but the long-term gain is huge for all parties.”

More than developing skills 
There is a deeper philosophy behind Nerak’s investment in apprenticeships. “We believe that supporting apprenticeships is just the right thing to do,” says John Oakley. “As well as playing a vital part in shaping the future of Nerak, it gives young people the freedom to grow and develop with the full support of those around them, which is an invaluable opportunity. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to have a mentor during their career will appreciate the difference that someone investing their time, knowledge and guidance can make. Within our management team are people who were apprentices themselves. They look back fondly and with pride at this part of their lives and they appreciate the true value of such schemes,” continues John Oakley. “So, it’s not only about building the apprentices’ skill sets to provide a strong footing for their careers, but also about developing them as people.” This is a view endorsed by Jemma Morris: “Throughout my apprenticeship I have become so much more confident in myself compared to when I started,” she explains. “I’ve experienced some major life changes in the last year and the behaviours I’ve learned at Nerak have supported how I have chosen to navigate through these. It’s setting me up for life – not just in work, but as a person too.”

Exceeding expectations 
Summing up, John Oakley is unequivocal: “We cannot overstate how much we have enjoyed participating in apprenticeships, nor how much we recommend this route to other businesses. It is immensely rewarding to see young people develop their skills and confidence in equal measure. It has exceeded all our expectations.”

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