Introducing High Spec Composites - Cherwell Business Awards Apprenticeship of the Year finalists

Congratulations to High Spec Composites on being selected as one of our Cherwell Business Awards Apprenticeship of the Year finalists 2016! Read on to find out what makes the firm's Apprenticeships so great...

High Spec Composites Ltd is a small company near Bicester, founded in 2010 by Managing Director Matt Jaycock and his wife Sarah. High Spec manufacture carbon fibre components for a wide range of industries, specialising in components for Formula One and currently supplying to six of the leading F1 teams. The firm has also worked in partnership with wheelchair manufacturer Carbon Black System Ltd to apply cutting edge F1 technology to design, develop and manufacture a carbon fibre wheelchair which has transformed the lives of people with spinal injuries.

Why Apprentices?

Matt and Sarah decided that they wanted to use Apprentices to grow their team, following their own experiences in the world of work. Sarah says: “When I left university in 2009, I was faced with the difficult task of finding employment with qualifications but very little work experience. It seemed every vacancy that I applied for required a degree of experience working within the industry and yet no one was really in a position or prepared to provide me with such experience. Unfortunately it became very apparent that qualifications meant very little without some proof that I could put them into practice. When Matt and I set up the company, I suggested that we ought to provide our staff with the best start in a career, giving them the opportunity to attain both qualifications and experience.”

They employed their first Apprentice Connor in 2011, on an Advanced Apprenticeship in Motorsport Engineering. Connor settled in well and progressed quickly, so Matt and Sarah decided to recruit another Apprentice to join him. When two candidates – Charlie and Reiss – stood out at interview, High Spec decided to employ them both, taking the opportunity to expand the team without putting themselves under too much financial pressure.

Sarah says: “When we first started the company, we found employing affordable staff really quite challenging. Skilled applicants would demand high rates of pay and as a new business struggling with immediate cash-flow, we weren’t always able to meet such demands and yet we had orders coming in that we really couldn’t turn down. Employing a mixture of Apprentices and skilled staff proved to be an incredibly beneficial compromise as we were able to employ up to two Apprentices each year starting on a much lower rate of pay – although higher than the Apprentice minimum - by providing them with training as well as a wage. We were able to complete orders and increase our customer base without entering into any financial difficulty.”

The company found their first three Apprentices to be ambitious and quick to learn, completing their NVQs in less time than predicted and so went on to employ a forth Apprentice, Ollie. Each new Apprentice quickly becomes part of the High Spec team, working alongside qualified technicians and as involved in projects as any other member of staff. They are given a degree of responsibility whilst ensuring they have the guidance they need, which helps them to flourish.

In-house skills matrix

High Spec have an in-house skills matrix visible to all members of staff, advising which employee is capable of teaching any given skill. This enables Apprentices to use their own initiative and approach the correct person for additional training and advice. It also enables the company to identify strengths and interests and develop each individual’s role to make best use of their skills to benefit the firm. During their training, Apprentices are also encouraged to experience working in each of High Spec’s departments to help them understand the different stages of the composite process and discover which working environment they feel most suited to. Apprentices also attend additional certified courses, paid for by the company, which include fire safety, first aid and abrasive wheel training.

Sarah says: “We believe by providing training in each department, monitoring progress, identifying opportunities to improve and allowing creativity and flexibility within job roles, Apprentices have the most opportunity to progress into responsible roles including management both within our organisation and others.”

Progression within the company and beyond

High Spec Composites aim to offer each Apprentice a full-time position upon completion of their Apprenticeship, which benefits the company substantially since they are able start their full time career already knowing the team, the facility and how the business is run. They are also invaluable when it comes to training new Apprentices, as the requirements of the NVQ and correct methods of working are still fresh in their minds.

Sarah says: “Not all the Apprentices have chosen to stay within our company. This, however, has also worked in our favour. Those who have used the Apprenticeship as a platform and subsequently moved on F1 teams and similar companies within the same industry have in turn opened lines of communication between ours and new customers, suppliers and potential partners, which may not have previously existed. We have found that well-trained and highly skilled employees moving from our company into others can also work as a form of advertising.”

Apprentice Ollie says: “I’m glad I chose to do my Apprenticeship at High Spec Composites as they have given me the best chance to experience all aspects of the composite industry. I feel valued and more attention is given as it’s a small company and a close team. High Spec is a great company! The team make anyone feel welcome. It’s the most versatile training around!”

On being CBA finalists...

Sarah says: “We are incredibly excited and proud to be a finalist in this year’s Cherwell Business Awards. We hope that by being a finalist we can show other small local businesses just how easy and beneficial workplace apprenticeships can be, especially for new start-ups.We also hope this award and all media coverage of it will help to advertise and encourage local students to consider apprenticeships as a route into otherwise difficult to enter industries, such as motor sports.”

Sarah is pictured above with Apprentice Ollie and husband Matt with the Apprentice Torch, which has been touring the Thames Valley to demonstrate the passing of knowledge from employer to Apprentice.