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"Training literally changes lives," says apprenticeship firm boss
HE may hail originally from Merseyside, but Steve Grant takes his credentials as an honorary Teessider very seriously.
Migrating here 23 years ago to take up a job in finance with the bastion of heavy manufacturing, Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), the former material engineering student met a girl from Middlesbrough, got married and had two sons – and settled into the Teesside way of life.
“It’s a fantastic area,” he said. “I’m a loyal Liverpool fan, but I’ve had a season ticket for Boro for 20 years. I love taking my sons to the match. I think it’s part of a dad’s duty to take his son to the local football club.
“I think Teesside is quite similar to Merseyside. The people are friendly, and although it’s maybe not loudly confident, there’s certainly a quiet confidence here.
“People don’t know what there is on Teesside. They see the industry, they don’t see the beautiful countryside nearby.”
Steve joined TTE Technical Training Group 13 years ago, as an accountant, and was appointed as managing director two years ago. The organisation, which is a largely self-funding registered charity, has 600 North-East engineering apprentices who get free training.
The group, originally started by British Steel and ICI as a training provider for their own workforce and the industry supply chains, is now independent and works to place trainees with suitable employers when they’ve finished their apprenticeships.
Although it gets some Government funding, the organisation largely raises funds for the North-East operation through training personnel from overseas, paid for by employers including big multi-national firms such as Shell, with all profits pumped back into the business to help meet the skills shortage in the engineering industry and help young North-East people get skills and jobs.
“It is a very rewarding job,” said Steve. “ICI was a great place to work, but I think you can be a small cog in a big machine in larger organisations. At a company like TTE, you’re exposed to every aspect of the business. People generally behave as if it is a family business.”
The firm’s international operations, which have included work in Nigeria, Africa, and Azerbaijan, West Asia, saw them open an office in Libya in 2011 – which was unfortunately delayed by the North African country’s recent troubles.
“We have worked with Libya for a long, long time, originally bringing people to Teesside to train them, but gradually it became an operation where we trained them in Libya.
“We won a major contract with the German firm Wintershall and as a result, set up TTE Libya.
“Unfortunately, as we were recruiting people, the revolution broke out. That was obviously a major issue – we got the staff we had there out very quickly.
“I went back to Libya three times last year, and it is great to see how the country is rebuilding. It is a lot more positive (than before the revolution). People can talk more freely, they can exploit the opportunities that are there.
“It is starting from scratch in terms of infrastructure and services like the police force, but there is a lot of opportunity there. We are now resuming our plans and we are very confident about it.”
Other markets TTE are exploring include Australia, Asia, the Middle East and other African countries.
Steve said he felt the British Government could invest money in engineering training more productively, by giving firms bursaries to train people to encourage smaller firms to take on apprentices, and allowing them to use funding to train older apprentices, rather than limiting funding to young people up to 19 years-old.
“There is no shortage of young people – we get about 700 applications a year for just 150 places. Young people are increasingly seeing it as a great career opportunity. There are no university fees and you can get a fantastic job at the end of it.
“It also doesn’t rule out academic study – many companies will fund apprentices who want to go on to degree level and higher, which gives firms a fantastic asset – an employee who has both practical experience and high academic qualifications.
“This is a great job - the rewarding side of it is we are training people and giving them a start in life,” said Steve. “If they can get a job with an engineering company, it opens so many opportunities for them. “It literally changes their lives.”
Five minutes with... Steve Grant
Favourite North-East building and why.
Wynyard Hall, it’s a beautiful building and lovely grounds. It’s a great on a sunny English day.
What was your first job and how much did you get paid?
It was a part-time job as a petrol pump attendant back in the days when it wasn’t self-service. I did it for quite a few years. The pay seemed good as a 16-year-old and I got a real wage packet containing real money.
What is the worst job you've had?
Planting hundreds of spring onions on a farm in Kent – that was a back-breaking piece work.
What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner?
If it stops raining we can have a barbecue. Burgers, sausages, kebabs, salad and some amber nectar.
What would your superpower be?
The ability to fly like Superman. I could then avoid claustrophobic aeroplanes and visit my brother in Australia in a few minutes.
Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party.
Writer Spike Milligan; footballer and manager Bill Shankly; comedian Jo Brand; and cyclist Bradley Wiggins – all funny people, and at least two of them are Liverpool FC supporters.
Most expensive thing you've bought - other than car or house - and how much?
I can’t think of anything, I must need to spend more! Probably holidays to Australia and Kenya.
Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why?
Not my scene – life’s too short.
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger – a great book about being young.
When did you last cry?
The funeral of a friend who died when he was far too young. Steve Warne, a really nice guy.
What is your greatest achievement?
My family – I am a lucky man.
What's the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given?
I like the quote from Anita Roddick, “Business is not financial science; it’s about trading, buying and selling”.
Favourite animal and why.
Boxer dog – we had a family pet called Bruno when I was younger and he was fantastic. I also like giraffes, they are very graceful, but have the ability to knock out a lion.
Most famous person on your mobile phone.
Ian Swales MP, a great champion of North-East industry and apprenticeships.
What was the last band you saw live?
Public Image Ltd at the Empire in Middlesbrough. Not often you get the chance to see a living legend, in this case John Lydon, perform.
Describe your perfect night in.
Either a big family party or a nice meal, bottle of wine, with my wife and boys.
In another life I would be...
An actor. It’s never too late?
Who would play you in a film of your life?
If he was still alive it would have to be Steve McQueen – although he was probably a bit too cool.
What irritates you?
Lots of things! Hypocrisy and greed mainly, but also people talking loudly on mobile phones.
What's your secret talent?
Haven’t found out yet, I’m still looking.