Phil Bennion has spent a day as an apprentice at Steelite International in Stoke as part of the Lib Dem campaign to double the number of apprenticeships - and push their needs up the agenda in government and in the EU.

Phil Bennion Steelite WS-IMG 0825
Phil practising sponging and fettling teapots with 17-year-old apprentice Bethany Foster at Steelite.
The West Midlands MEP and Lib Dem Employment spokesman in the European Parliament joined a number of Lib Dem MPs and peers in spending a day this week as an apprentice.

Phil joined the enthusiastic team of 12 at the award-winning china and tableware manufacturer's factory in Burslem in Stoke-on-Trent.

Guided by former apprentice Dan Stone, who now has a permanent job at Steelite, the MEP sampled the apprentices' training hands-on in different parts of the thriving plant, which employs around 700 people.

His day included trying his hand at tasks on the production line including casting and painting, and learning how to sponge and fettle teapots with 17-year-old apprentice Bethany Foster.

The MEP also had a session with apprentice joiner and plumber Cameryn Shingler, 17, learning to fabricate a door.

At the end of the day he fielded questions in a lively question and answer session with apprentices from all Steelite departments including HR and finance, design, sales and marketing.

Phil said: "It was a privilege to spend a day with the enthusiastic staff at Steelite, who have made their apprenticeship scheme such a huge success. There is a great spirit here and it was very noticeable how everyone knew their place in the supply chain and as part of a team.

"Liberal Democrats in government and in the European Parliament are keen to encourage more British businesses to offer apprenticeships as key step towards economic recovery and the million new jobs we must create.

"Germany's recent success is partly due to their long term commitment to training a skilled workforce. Steelite are a real example of best practice and I am keen to work with them further in future to encourage other firms to follow their lead - it benefits everyone.

"We want to double the number of apprenticeships offered in the UK from 100,000 to 200,000."

Human Resources Director Wendy Dean helped launch the apprentice programme after joining Steelite five years ago. There are currently 12 apprentices and a popular industrial cadets scheme working with local schools.

She said: "It has been a success, not just with our young people but also in challenging and galvanising our existing workforce to pass on their skills. In common with other firms in the ceramics sector, our highly skilled workforce has a high age profile. Many will retire quite soon so we need to train a new generation.

"I am absolutely convinced apprenticeships are vital to the future of this company and the sector as a whole."

Phil Bennion Steelite WS-IMG 0803
The MEP also learned how to fabricate a door with apprentice joiner and plumber Cameryn Shingler, 17, before joining Dan Stone and other present and former apprentices to hear their views on the training and what persuaded them to try it out.
Phil Bennion Steelite WS-IMG 0918
The day was designed to give Phil a hands-on insight into the apprenticeships on offer and also to hear views from managers and apprentices which he will take back to Ministers, MEPs on the Employment Committee of the European Parliament and the European Commission.

Phil also met CEO Kevin Oakes and staff from Axia Solutions, who are Steelite's training partners.


Note: Based in Burslem, Steelite International exports around 80% of their output to 130 countries, specialising in china and tableware for the hospitality and catering industry.

The firm has a well-developed apprenticeships scheme and is keen to encourage other businesses in the sector and generally to boost apprenticeships to counteract the decline in the skilled labour pool.

Steelite International employs more than 800 people, with more than 700 of these working at its Stoke-on-Trent headquarters. That will rise by 60 when a 2,000 square metre (22,000 sq ft) extension to the dish-making unit is completed by the end of the year. Next year, work starts on a new state-of-the-art 5,480 square metre (59,000 sq ft) production facility adjacent to Steelite International's existing site that will create more than 170 additional jobs.

The firm worked closely with Phil Bennion in persuading EU governments including the UK to impose 'anti-dumping' duties on Chinese tableware and kitchenware being sold at artificially low prices in the EU.

Apprenticeships: More and better apprenticeships are a key priority for the Lib Dems in government and in the European Parliament, as they are essential to increasing jobs. The coalition has created 1.2 million apprentices in England since 2010, while Lib Dem MEPs are fighting for the next EU budget to prioritise training, research and programmes to help employers create more jobs.

The Lib Dems in government are now campaigning for businesses to double the number of apprentices as a key step towards their target of a million more new private sector jobs.