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Casting a new work mould

John Cairney discovers what lifelong learning means for one small company in Ayrshire

Wendy Alexander, Minister for Lifelong Learning, probably had someone like Ian Fenney in mind when she referred to "the disappointed" as one of her "three Ds". The other Ds she expects the Scottish University for Industry to turn on to learning are "the disaffected" and "the disappeared".

Mr Fenney may not have been "knocked back by formal education", to quote the minister's definition in her TES Scotland interview last week, but he is the first to admit that he did not take full advantage of what was on offer at the time. "I am now doing what I should have done at school but I couldn't get out of there quick enough," he recalls.

After leaving school he enlisted in the Youth Training Scheme (YTS) as trainee greenkeeper at a golf club and then worked as a sheet metal dresser before joining Johnstone Castings and Engineering (JCE) as a van driver and castings polisher at the age of 21. Ten years on, thanks to the company's commitment to training, he is now senior buyer with realistic aspirations of joining the management.

JCE, based in Dalry in North Ayrshire, designs and manufactures aluminium casting components for a wide range of applications from telecommunications to the aerospace industry. Calum McPherson, the managing director, said that the family firm is committed to offering training to all its 87 staff.

Mr Fenney's experience reflects that commitment, as he worked his way up from short in-house training programmes to evening classes at Kilmarnock College. Mr McPherson says all empoyees are encouraged to participate in learning opportunities whether related to their jobs or not, and he believes this contributes to building loyalty and enthusiasm.

Five years ago he introduced a company training approach called PELET, an acronym which reflects what he believes are the five key principles for running a successful business : people, evaluation, learning, empowerment and teamwork.

The firm is now poised to become the very model of a modern training operation. With the assistance of funding from the University for Industry, the Scottish Learning Network and the local council, JCE has set up a learning centre to expand its own training scheme as well as offering opportunities to the local community and other small businesses.

This will be music to the ears of Ms Alexander who says she does not want these new learning options to be in "the usual suspect places". JCE intends applying to the University for Industry for backing as an approved learning centre, one of 300 planned across Scotland by next year.

Calum McPherson also has plans to raise the level of awareness of the engineering industry in local schools. "A key element in our expanded scheme will be the creation of engineering clubs in which school pupils will work alongside JCE employees to design, manufacture and sell products via the Internet." Mandy Rennie, the recently appointed manager of the centre, has visited the local secondary to talk to second year pupils preparing to select their subject options. She also wants to develop learning resources for the company's customers and suppliers.

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