Gateshead College is Driving Force Behind First Electric Vehicle Apprenticeship

THE world’s leading manufacturer of commercial electric vehicles, Smith Electric Vehicles Europe Ltd, is powering ahead following its decision last year to bring on board Gateshead College as its strategic training partner to deliver the first ever electric vehicle apprenticeship.

The driving force behind the move was managing director Geoff Allison, who wanted to ensure the Washington-based company would be able to secure its future in the global market place for electric vehicles with a workforce of highly trained technicians, equipped with the requisite skills and expertise to propel the company along the road to success over the coming years.

He turned to Gateshead College because he recognised its outstanding track record for apprenticeships and the automotive sector – successfully meeting the requirements for the likes of Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK – but also its willingness to go the extra mile in providing a bespoke solution rather than an off-the shelf package.

More than four months into the apprenticeship programme, which was completely written from scratch by Gateshead College for Smith’s because there was no existing training blueprint for electric vehicles, six apprentices are undergoing workplace training combined with classroom studies at the college’s Skills Academy for Automotive, Engineering, Manufacturing and Logistics on the Team Valley.

A further six are expected to be recruited every year to the programme to ensure there’s a constant stream of fresh young talent coming into Smith’s to be trained in the necessary techniques for producing electric vehicles and bolster the existing workforce.

Although the company, which was founded in 1920 and employs 60 people at Washington, has hired apprentices in the past, the partnership with Gateshead College has marked a return to using them on a more structured basis. It will ensure the company has a skilled workforce able to meet the requirements of its customers, who include Royal Mail, Transport for London, Coca-Cola, DHL, TNT and Sainsbury’s.

The nationally recognised course sees the apprentices undertaking an advanced apprenticeship programme – equivalent to three A-levels – while gaining work-based expertise and skills through an NVQ Level 3 in engineered systems and City & Guilds Level 3 in engineering.

They also gain key skills in English, maths, IT, communications and working with others before having the opportunity to progress onto an HNC in electrical engineering at Gateshead College followed by a foundation degree in engineering, maintenance operations or electric vehicles.

As part of the partnership, Smith’s has donated a vehicle chassis and components to the college to aid the apprentices’ academic studies. These are supplemented with support from a mentor from the company who works on-site at the college advising the apprentices on technical matters while the college reciprocates the arrangement with an engineer conducting all classroom training.

Mr Allison said the benefit to employers of hiring apprentices is huge and can deliver significant benefits to business of any size. He strongly believes apprenticeships are a successful way to develop workforces, making them more effective, productive and competitive by addressing skills gaps directly.

He praised the work done by Gateshead College after he decided to commit the company to reintroducing apprenticeships.

He said: “Gateshead College clearly had an excellent track record in delivering apprenticeships but it was its commitment to going the extra mile through investing in additional training resources, staff expertise and designing and delivering a highly tailored apprenticeship programme to meet our needs that really impressed.

“This is delivering the specific skills I require as an employer while enabling us to keep pace with the latest developments in technology and working practices which will secure our future.”

Paul Gough, head of commercial operations at Gateshead College, said: “An apprenticeship is an excellent way to ensure you gain the valuable skills a company requires while being able to give something back to an employer who’s prepared to invest in your future.

“The college is among the best in the region for success rates for apprenticeships – to date, more than 3,500 apprentices have completed their programmes thanks to specialist support and training.

“And we’ve supported hundreds of employers, like Smith Electric Vehicles, to help them to meet their needs through tailor-made programmes to train young people for the workplace.”

He added the case for apprentices will only continue to get stronger as it is estimated they’ll be up to 400,000 new ‘green’ jobs in the UK by 2020.

“By identifying, developing and delivering specialist training in these emerging green technologies, we’re at the forefront of equipping the region’s workforce with the skills to meet this demand,” said Mr Gough.

“The partnership with Smith Electric Vehicles forms a significant part of this work and we’re delighted to have been the first college to develop a unique framework and offer an apprenticeship in electric vehicles – a blueprint for low-carbon vehicle training across the UK.”

Gateshead College delivers a wide range of apprenticeship and advanced apprenticeship programmes in sectors such as motor vehicle, plumbing, electrical, administration, hairdressing, engineering and manufacturing and creative and can assist employers with the recruitment of apprentices and supply learners for work experience placements with a view to going into an apprenticeship. Information about apprenticeships at Gateshead College is available at or 0191 490 4636.

The Journal