ULF project offers redundancy support at Somerset paper mill

Most of the 175-strong workforce were left jobless when DS Smith's Wansborough Paper Mill, one of the largest employers in west Somerset, shut down just before Christmas 2015.

When they heard about the impending closure, EDF Energy Construction Skills Manager Marc Docherty and his colleague Employment and Skills Manager Jenny Sandy contacted plant owner DS Smith’s HR department and offered to talk to the workforce about the potential employment opportunities at Hinkley Point C (HPC).

The nuclear new-build promises to be one of the largest construction projects in Europe, with some 5,600 workers on site at its peak and around 25,000 employment opportunities on offer over the planned ten years of its construction.

Marc and Jenny visited the plant in October and spoke to around 100 workers. They told them about the potential opportunities at HPC once the project gets off the ground, the skills and trades that will be required and the training opportunities already on offer.

These include new opportunities to gain skills and qualifications developed in partnership with local colleges and other training providers through the Union Learning Fund (ULF) project, Building a Learning and Skills Legacy at Hinkley Point C and across the South West. The multi-union initiative, involving construction union UCATT, general unions GMB and Unite, and the professionals’ union Prospect, aims to build a workplace and community-based learning and training infrastructure to make sure that local people have the skills they need to take up the new job opportunities at HPC as they arise.

Marc explained:

The closure of the mill, the main employer in a small town, has been a severe blow and we gave people a bit of hope.

The workforce includes the engineers, production workers, administrative and HR staff with different skill sets that you would expect to find in a typical factory. They are people with a good work ethic who want to work. We want people like that at HPC.”

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Sam Quigley @Private

Unite Learning Organiser Sam Quigley then met up with Bristol-based training company N-Gaged Training & Recruitment Ltd Chief Executive Officer Simon Arnold and they came up with the idea of an on-site jobs and training ‘carousel’ for the workforce.

DS Smith and Unite gave the go-ahead to the proposal and in January 2016 , the company and union joined forces with EDF Energy, transport company Crossville, NGaged, City of Bristol College, Jobcentre Plus and Curtis Training Associates joined forces to put on the event.

 

Sam said:

We decided that holding an event at the paper mill would be the best way forward for staff to be able to access information, advice and guidance (IAG).”

Each organisation gave a presentation introducing their services and was then assigned a table in order to provide advice on a one-to-one basis. Together, they set out the vocational and other qualifications, employability skills assessments and support, and job opportunities on offer.

Jobcentre Plus Response to Redundancy Manager Jerry Rice found the event useful and commented:

The local Unite rep, Trevor Bale, was incredibly helpful and sat in on all the sessions."

As a result of the initiative, several workers gained interviews with Crosville, which plans to provide increased transport services to HPC now that the transport contract has increased in numbers.

Crosville Head of Training and Recruitment John Wye said:

There is the potential for 12 new starts with our company. The event was a massive help to us and I was impressed with how well the workforce conducted themselves. Many had transferrable skills, like supervisors who have internal customer service skills and can communicate well. Thatʼs what we want - people who are able to communicate with our passengers. Others already had experience of driving large vehicles. It was a very, very valuable exercise and opened up channels of communication with Jobcentre Plus, for example. As a result we will be taking part in other recruitment events.”

Other workers have started employment with G4S, which is due to provide security services at the project, and several were offered interviews at HPC with ‘Tier 1’ contractors. They are looking for plant operators, steel fixers and formwork construction workers, but people with these skills are in short supply.

Marc added:

These are where the jobs are and upskilling opportunities are available locally."

N-Gaged, for example, can help with CV writing and interview skills and Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) cards, which are increasingly needed in order to gain work in the construction sector. They provide proof that individuals working on construction sites have the required training and qualifications for the type of work they carry out.

In addition, around 130 former DS Smith workers have signed up to the HPC Jobs Service which works closely with both contractors and local people. Contractors provide the service with forecasts of their workforce requirements and it provides people looking for work with information, about training programmes for example, to help them become part of the HPC workforce.

Following this support a number of people secured jobs with Crosville and G4S - with more interviews in the pipeline.

Marc summed up saying:

The initiative went really well as a joint venture. Instead of working in silos we worked as a team.

There have been a huge number of job losses locally – some 1700 have been lost across the region since December 2015 alone. Providing support like this means that local people who have lost their jobs, but have valuable skills, know where to go to retrain or upskill so they can take advantages of the job opportunities that will be on offer once HPC gets the green light."

Sam added:

It was a truly joined up initiative and had a greater impact because we all worked together."

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