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Donna Black

Tony Cobley

Apprenticeships, undergraduate placements and lifelong learning at Valeport

Designing and manufacturing high quality instruments to measure data accurately and reliably in the world’s most challenging underwater environments requires a highly skilled workforce.

For Valeport, the UK’s leading manufacturer of hydrographic and oceanographic instruments, a focus on lifelong learning and career development has helped it recruit and retain its talented team. From NVQ and degree apprenticeships to undergraduate students on a placement year, Valeport is committed to investing in its people to help them achieve their career goals.

Apprenticeships – the starting point for a successful Valeport career

Valeport’s apprentices are spread across the business. Two apprentices currently work in the machine shop, where the highly skilled team builds the housings for Valeport’s instruments. Another apprentice is based in the firm’s electronics room and a fourth in the service and repair department. The firm’s commitment to its apprentices is clear.

“In most cases our apprentices are offered a permanent role with us at the end of their apprenticeship,” says Jeremy Law, Valeport’s Operations Manager. “In fact several of our apprentices have gone on to have long and successful careers with us. Our product assembly manager started as an apprentice and others have been promoted into different teams including sales,” adds Jeremy.

The two apprentices in Jeremy’s machine shop team are studying for a Level 3 NVQ in mechanical engineering at South Devon College. In all, 20% of their working week is spent learning. As well as a day a week at college, they learn on the job through coaching from colleagues, attending courses and exhibitions.

“Apprenticeships are great for our apprentices themselves, giving them a chance to learn while they are working. But they are also fantastic for Valeport, as we end up with employees who develop into the business with an understanding of how we work. Our apprentices are also very good at what they do and can deliver the quality our customers expect,” explains Jeremy.

“I applied for my apprenticeship because I wanted to get into engineering and after two years at college I decided that starting at Valeport could be my next career step,”

Building confidence and a sense of achievement

For machine shop apprentice Oliver Benney, his apprenticeship is the first step into a career in engineering. “I applied for my apprenticeship because I wanted to get into engineering and after two years at college I decided that starting at Valeport could be my next career step,” he says. And the best part for Oli? “I enjoy the challenges that I get presented with on a daily basis,” he adds.

Fran Bullimore, who is also an apprentice in the machine shop, enjoys getting hands-on with the equipment, including the Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines, which produce the high quality custom designed parts that Valeport is known for. She explains: “I’ve really enjoyed being introduced to working with CNC machines and other equipment and learning how various parts are produced from start to finish.”

Apprenticeships are about more than course work and studying; a good apprenticeship should help an apprentice to flourish and grow in confidence. That is certainly the case for Valeport’s apprentices. “I’m proud of how quickly I’ve adapted to the new working environment and how far my confidence has grown. I can complete certain jobs from start to finish with little or no help or guidance and that feels great,” says Fran.

Oli also finds his work at Valeport gives him a sense of achievement: “I feel pride when I am given a task that is considered to be difficult and I am able to complete it,” he says.

Degree apprenticeships – bringing together the best of higher and vocational training

Valeport apprentices come from all walks of life and stages in their careers. Operations Manager Jeremy Law is completing a degree alongside his work at Valeport and will graduate next year.

“I’ve worked at Valeport for 25 years, with 24 of them as a manager,” he says. “I started my Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (CMDA) as a way of gaining a formal qualification and because I like to challenge myself,” adds Jeremy. “I find it compliments what I’ve learnt on the job and gives me great ideas to put into practice.”

Valeport also has a degree apprentice in its software department. Dominic Blount is a key part of the team which designs software for Valeport’s products. The software department also creates software which is used internally by Valeport’s highly skilled workforce.

Dominic is working towards a Digital & Technology Solutions Professional Degree Apprenticeship – a Plymouth University course that is being delivered by South Devon College – and is in his third year.

Dominic has already been given the responsibility to lead on several key projects for Valeport. He has designed standard software for the organisation, which fits with its brand. This has now been rolled out and is being used for all of Valeport’s customer and internal software. Dominic has also developed bespoke software which is being used by Valeport’s electronic design engineers.

Undergraduate placements making an impact

As well as apprentices, Valeport also takes on undergraduate students on their placement year.

Thomas Bishop is studying a Natural Sciences BSc at the University of Bath and is working with Valeport’s research and development team for his placement year.

“Thomas’s chemistry and physics knowledge is a great addition to the team and he is doing valuable work on a project to develop a new PH sensor. The project would not have progressed as quickly without him. He is brilliant at translating the information in a way that the engineers in our team, who have not studied chemistry, can understand,” says Jay Nicholson, Valeport’s Head of Research & Development.

Jay knows first-hand the benefits of doing a placement year, as that is how his Valeport career started. Fast-forward 27 years and Jay is now heading up the whole research and development department, overseeing the development of Valeport’s suite of instruments.

Valeport’s focus on investing in its people to help them gain qualifications and develop means it holds onto its talented team. In turn this ensures that the business continues to design and manufacture the high quality instruments its customers expect.