Rutland firm with proud history looks to future with apprentices

Apprentice centre at RPC Containers in Oakham. Neo Wara, 18, from Cottesmore. Photo: MSMP-31-03-15-am001 EMN-150104-171251001

Apprentice centre at RPC Containers in Oakham. Neo Wara, 18, from Cottesmore. Photo: MSMP-31-03-15-am001 EMN-150104-171251001

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One of Rutland’s biggest employers is securing the future of its workforce by training the next generation of engineers and managers.

RPC Containers, based in Schofield Road, Oakham, began its Rutland operations in 1973 and has since expanded to become part of a of a plastics packaging group with sites across the UK and abroad.

Long service employees at RPC at Oakham  Phil Minkley and John (Jack) Lewis EMN-151103-154825009

Long service employees at RPC at Oakham Phil Minkley and John (Jack) Lewis EMN-151103-154825009

The firm employs hundreds of people, many of whom have worked there for decades. John Lewis and Phil Minkley, pictured above, both started about 40 years ago and are still going strong.

But RPC also recognises the need to ensure a supply of skilled workers to carry the company into the future. Thousands have been spent converting an old storeroom into a teaching centre, and the company is training apprentices for careers in the main factory.

Dan Freckinham co-ordinates the apprenticeship scheme for RPC in Oakham. He and teacher Allan Spani have guided a number of teenagers through mechanical engineering qualifications, and both are strong believers in the value of apprenticeships.

Dan said: “We are taking these guys to degree level. The commitment we make is to take it beyond college level by giving them work readiness. We teach them how to talk to people.”

There is no guaranteed job at the end of the course, but the company aims to retain as many of its graduates as possible and has offered several permanent positions in the three years since the appprentice scheme started.

“It’s a testament to what they have picked up here,” said Dan. “Their attitudes are right. They are all going to be managers of the future.”

Apprentices at RPC have access to top-of-the-range machines on which to practise their skills.

“We are very lucky to have a good supplier relationship,” said Dan. “We have been given some great kit for free.”

The apprentices are not the only ones who have had to learn new skills; it has also been a challenge for Dan and Allan to find the best way to run the course. But Dan believes that should not be an obstacle.

“This is something that any company could do,” he said. “It’s just knowing how it works. Total management support is what made this happen.”

Apprentice assessor and trainer Allan moved from RPC’s main factory to teach the apprentices on a permanent basis.

He said: “We are teaching them what they need to know within our industry. We cover five or six different parts of the business.

“Basic hand skills and machining skills are suitable for all our premises.

“Colleges don’t devote enough time doing this sort of work, unfortunately.

“We know exactly how many vacancies we want; we know the calibre of the type of people we are after. We take the raw talent and hopefully turn it into a young engineer.”

The future is important for RPC, but the company is also keen to highlight the achievements of its longer serving employees.

Among those are John Lewis and Phil Minkley, who have both been with the firm for 40 years.

The two friends, both 63, have known each other since they were five and have seen many changes at the company together. They now work in the yard loading and unloading vehicles and checking stock.

The company was much smaller when the two men joined back in the 1970s.

“It was a family atmosphere when I started,” said John. “We were very close. We used to get taken out for drinks every month.

“It was a smaller operation. There were only two on each shift and it was only weekdays. It was a completely different world.”

Phil added: “It doesn’t matter where you are, changes go on every day. It’s just a natural progression. Health and safety has improved considerably since then.”

John and Phil are among many who have stuck with the company through its many changes, watching it transform from a small company to one of Rutland’s biggest employers.

“People do stay for a long time,” said Phil. “It was a very friendly company when we first started and we have stuck here ever since.”

And both men see the value of their company’s focus on the future.

“We need more apprentices,” said John. “It’s a thing that’s coming. We need people to take over that will learn the skills that we have.” He added: “It’s important to have industry like this in Rutland.

RPC will hold an apprentice recruitment day from 4pm to 7pm on Wednesday, April 15. For more details before the event contact Pauline Morgan on 01572 725231.