SE-TEK Limited is an exciting new company launched following a management buy-out in August 2021 of Komatsu’s Sunderland manufacturing site.  It operates from a 200,000 square foot facility on the Sunderland Enterprise Park with an existing workforce of around 100 employees. The new business has secured skilled jobs in the region and is paving the way for the continuous development of an industry hit hard in recent years due to COVID19 and Brexit. As a business, SE-TEK specialises in making and supplying conveyor components and spare parts to original equipment manufacturers in the aggregates, mining, tunnelling, and construction sectors, contributing to regional and national economic growth.

As a result of the manufacturing industry’s brutal hit over the past few years, various skill and people shortages have ensued. For SE-TEK, the bulk of these shortages resulted from a lack of welders. Daren Cooney, Manufacturing and Support Manager, stated that they have faced challenges in recruiting even time served welders into the business. This is due to the fact that there is too high a demand for welders across the region at this time, and there are not enough people to satisfy this demand.

In a hope to bridge this skills gap within the industry, SE-TEK has partnered with training provider Zenith Training’, which Zenith Training has developed an innovative approach to skill shortages and helping to provide SE-TEK with recruitment solutions. Their approach is practical, and its aim is not to have the ability to bridge the skills gap straight away but to provide solutions that will steadily contribute to the issue.

A part of this innovative solution is to get young people into work; Daren Cooney described this as a ‘Win-Win’ situation for SE-TEK, supporting the business while helping young people get into work as well as having the opportunity to develop their skills. In order to do so, Zenith Training advocated SE-TEK the success of the government ran kickstart scheme. Now closed, the scheme provided funding to employers to create jobs for 16-24-year-olds on Universal Credit.

With the help of Zenith Training, SE-TEK has taken on 14 young people to do welding as part of the kickstart scheme; the first cohort of 5 started at SE-TEK on the 5th of January and the second cohort of 9 started on the 7th of March. Between both cohorts, each kickstarter remains at SE-TEK; both Daren Cooney, Manufacturing and Support Manager and Steven Bowman, Production Manager, boast the young peoples’ success in the business. They stated that the kickstarter’s have “hit the ground running” and have incorporated into the business well and are “getting stuck in, while being conscientious and eager”. This was always both SE-TEK and Zenith Training’s aim; both sides are incredibly pleased that the kickstart welders are doing well as it reflects both parties’ hard work and the effort and motivation of the kickstarter’s.

The individuals working within SE-TEK as part of the kickstart scheme are of varied backgrounds, ages, and skillsets. No matter their interest, the young adults have had the ability to explore their talents and test the waters to determine what function within the business best suits them.

Both cohorts have been incorporated into the business through a phased start; they all started work in the support offices in order to support the product on the shop floor. This includes sales, planning, logistics, manufacturing, and engineering functions. A month later, they have integrated slowly onto the shop floor; this way, the kickstarter’s are provided with insight into how the product goes together and not putting them in a high-risk area straight away as safety is always a priority at SE-TEK.

Daren Cooney claimed that the kickstarter’s have been ‘invaluable’ to the business in terms of operation. They have helped production run smoothly. Some individuals from the first cohort also carry out tasks to the same degree as workers who have been doing the job for two to three years. Incorporating these individuals has also allowed managerial workflow to run more smoothly; kickstart welders have been able to pick up some senior staff members’ admin tasks. As a result of them adding significant value to the business, they have had their hours extended, enabling them to gain additional experience and learn even more skills.

SE-TEK share very similar values to Zenith, particularly regarding the future of young people within the workplace. The skills the kickstarter’s have gained from this experience, whether or not they end up going down the welding or manufacturing pathway, are even more invaluable to them. These young people will leave this work placement with six months’ work experience to boost their CV and gain soft and transferable skills that they can take with them to their next job and life in general.

The majority of the people from the two cohorts provided by Zenith wish to gain a permanent position at SE-TEK, with some hoping to go into specialised areas they’re interested in. Jason Freeman, 24, from the most current cohort of kickstart candidates, has a particular interest in quality inspection and hopes to eventually gain a quality inspection qualification to develop his prospects. SE-TEK has long-term options for the kickstarter’s who put effort into the role, as the demand for welders is ever increasing.

Moreover, Jake Donkin, 24, hopes to gain a permanent welding position within the industrial machinery manufacturing business. Jake’s background before starting at SE-TEK was predominately in call centre jobs; Jake hoped for a new challenge and has a keen interest in welding; Zenith and SE-TEK have worked together to bring Jakes’ new endeavour to fruition. He also claimed that applying for the role was a straightforward process. Georgia Callander, Candidate Engagement Consultant, was his point of contact Zenith training; Jake stated the process involved “an instant phone call and then done”. Swiftness is often an essential factor for young people when it comes to searching for a new role, as job hunting can prove to be a tedious task a lot of the time, not to mention that people are eager to get into work.

The future of SE-TEK as a company and its new young recruits is looking bright. Young people developing new skills and potentially creating a starting point for a lifelong career will always be positive. Both SE-TEK and Zenith Training are optimistic that applying an innovative approach to skill shortages will gradually help bridge skill gaps within the manufacturing industry and other industries facing challenges in the labour market.