Thompsons ServiceTech workshop

Thompsons UK is to launch an apprenticeship scheme next year, which will aim to bring in four new body builders every year.

The Croydon branch of the body builder is currently  in the process of designing the programme, and is in talks with nearby Croydon College.

Works manager Neil Butler is heading up the programme, and told MT he’s happy to be involved having started out at the business as an apprentice himself.

“I started here as an apprentice 12 years ago. Because I was one myself, I’m always keen to encourage more people to take apprenticeships. It feels good to pass that on," he said.

Butler said Thompsons is launching the scheme because there’s a skills shortage brewing in the manufacturing sector.

“There aren’t a lot of young people in manufacturing. It’s not so much a problem right now, but in 10 to 15 years’ time I can see there’s going to be a massive skills gap. We want to bring in some fresh blood.”

There’s additional drive, he added, because Thompsons qualifies to pay into the apprenticeship levy.

“The levy is driving this forward too, because if we don’t spend it, we lose it. So that definitely kick started us to get thinking about what we were going to do.”

A difficulty Butler said he is facing is finding an apprenticeship framework that’s appropriate for Thompsons’ operation, which sees bodies built from the ground up.

“We’re very specialised in what we do, so finding a course that covers it all is very difficult.  It’s engineering, but engineering is very broad.”

Thompsons wants its apprentices to learn a little bit of everything involved in the body building process, from welding to electrics.

“It suits us as a business to have a jack-of-all-trades approach, as it gives us flexibility in the work force,” said Butler. “And it’s more interesting than just working on one thing all the time.”

Realistically, Butler said it will be 2019 before Thompsons is ready to recruit for its first wave of apprentices. After that, he’s hoping the business will being in three or four on a yearly basis.

“It may be every two years while we find our feet, though” he added. “We want to get it right, and not run before we can walk. But I’m looking forward to seeing how our workforce has changed in five years’ time. Hopefully there will be some young people about.”