A WINE bottling business in County Durham has developed an innovative apprenticeship course designed to train local 16-18 year olds with warehouse skills.

Headquartered in Stanley, Greencroft Bottling Company is one of the UK’s largest contract wine bottling facilities and works with some of the world’s leading wine companies. As part of its ongoing commitment to training apprentices, the company has developed a pioneering Fork Lift Truck (FLT) training course open to local 16-18 year olds who are either school leavers or attending College.

Not only does this provide opportunities for local teens, it also ensures the business is able to employ these highly skilled new staff during a period of expansion while utilising the Apprenticeship Levy funds for their training.

The year-long course sees three cohorts per intake trained on newly purchased Toyota Counterbalance and Reach FLT, both of which are used across warehousing at Greencroft Bottling and the wider Lanchester group of companies including Lanchester Wines and Lanchester Gifts. The students will undertake training and mentoring on essential subjects including health and safety, utilising Manual Handling Equipment and, importantly, transferrable skills such as behavioural expectations of the work place.

A dedicated training area has been developed on site featuring a realistic warehouse environment complete with racking, a classroom and a breakout area. At the end of the course, students will receive an NVQ Level II Supply Chain Warehouse Operative with hopefully all being offered permanent roles across the group of businesses at the end of the 12 months course.

Launched in March of this year, the course has now welcomed its second cohort, as the first group move into the warehouse and bottling facility to work on live environments. Here they’ll join the company’s other apprentices who presently work across engineering and HR.

The course was jointly developed by Greencroft Bottling’s HR Manager, Stephanie Hodgson and Driver Trainer, Matthew Walton. Due to the restrictions with on what and how the Levy can be used Stephanie and Matthew’s training, project material and training equipment is privately funded by Greencroft Bottling and Lanchester Wines, and is supported by GEM Training who is providing the qualification. The long term aim is for Stephanie and Matthew to become NVQ assessors making the course fully sustainable and one which can be offered to other companies.

Matthew, a former army trainer, said: “This course is more than simply learning to drive a FLT; we instil a work ethic which can be used across any role in any business. It’s imperative the students learn not just the how, but also the why at every stage which both develops skills but also promotes problem solving.

“Our course follows an EDIP structure – Explain, Demonstrate, Imitate, Practise. The first six weeks are spent in the classroom and on our training course. After this time, if we’re confident the student is capable and competent at driving, loading and unloading, etc, they are gradually introduced to the fully operational warehouse and bottling facility.”

Tony Cleary, is Managing Director of the Lanchester group of companies, which includes Greencroft Bottling. He said: “While unemployment is at an all-time low, businesses, including ours, are struggling to employ and retain skilled workforce. We were unable to identify a suitable FLT course or apprenticeship which provided the level of training we require or which suited our long term aim of our training becoming fully sustainable.

“Through developing our own course, we can really tailor it to the specific needs of our business and be confident we have provided the best training possible while creating employment opportunities in our local community.”

The next project Stephanie is working on is an apprenticeship scheme in the bottling plant. Discussions are ongoing internally and with GEM Training on how to best implement this scheme and are hopeful the first cohort of apprentices will join the business mid-August 2018, working toward an NVQ in Performing Manufacturing Operations as well as securing long term employment.