Newhouse-based The Anderson Group Ltd has won a coveted UK trade award for its apprenticeship scheme.

Group company Northside Truck and Van Limited, the UK’s largest Mercedes Benz commercial vehicle supplier, won the ‘Apprenticeship of the Year’ title at the prestigious 2015 Motor Transport (MT) Awards in recognition of its commitment to developing ‘the leaders of tomorrow’.

The Anderson Group has for many years been committed to encouraging its staff through an effective and respected apprenticeship scheme. Irvine Anderson, the group CEO, explained: “The development and implementation of this apprenticeship scheme came from Tim Ward, managing director of Northside, and Russ Hallowes, its After Sales director. We all recognised and understood the need to offer the best apprenticeship scheme possible to attract and retain the best staff in the highly competitive marketplace in which we operate. We believe that developing and training our staff to the highest standards benefits the individual, the customers and, ultimately, the company.”

“This award is recognition by the trade that we are on the right track but we believe that we must continue to develop our apprentices to ensure they are the best in the industry.”

Three years ago Northside began a Future Leaders review organised by Tim Ward and Russ Hallowes which concluded that, if it was to meet its ambitious growth targets, it would have to commit significant additional resources to recruiting and training more technicians and parts and sales staff.

The company undertook a major overhaul of its established apprenticeship programme, introducing a series of innovations including a four-day induction for new joiners which involves meeting the management team and spending time in all departments; the provision of mentors; cross-discipline training to promote team working and integration; and the development of specialist modules such as fabrication, welding and hand fitting, which are delivered at the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

Following a successful trial period apprentice technicians now receive a Boxo Tool Kit worth more than £3,000, and the company also provides financial incentives by paying wages at 30% above the industry standard and contributing to a 10-year or 15-year monthly savings pot, allowing apprentices to earn a bonus of up to £21,600.

Anderson continued: “Retention is incredibly important in our business so incentivising staff is essential. We welcome the changes introduced by the Chancellor in the autumn statement as we believe that, although this will cost us more in payments to apprentices, it is worth it in the long run to create a scheme which our employees find attractive and worthwhile over a longer period. We would now expect that our apprentices will stay with us for 15 years after joining, and hopefully longer, due to their training, the enhanced payments, and the savings scheme which will ensure that we have continuity and they are able to build up an exceptional range of abilities over a longer period.”

Northside reported pass rates of 100% and retention rates of 98% for all apprentices, results heralded by the MT Awards judges as “outstanding”. There had been an unprecedented 256 applications for the company’s 2014’s intake of 13 apprenticeships, while three of the six finalists in the 2015 Mercedes-Benz Commercial Vehicle Apprentice of the Year competition were from Northside – including Technical Apprentice of the Year winner Harry Atkinson.

Anderson concludes: “I believe that there is room for our company to grow further. At the heart of any business are its people and ensuring they are the best is an essential element for this future growth. Having staff that are the best trained, the most motivated, and the most loyal to the firm is vital to any business and I believe our apprenticeship scheme is a further element in our business which will help it continue to grow over the next five to ten years.”

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