'My apprenticeship got me on the career ladder'

Francesca Clarke, this week's #InspiringApprentice, knew her career path when she met her employer on a school visit

Francesca Clarke

Francesca Clarke had no idea what she wanted to do after school - until her employer visited her secondary school and was inspired to do an apprenticeship

I am 22 years old and I have lived in Eaglescliffe, Stockton, all of my life. I knew from my first connection with Nifco, an automotive plastics business, that it was the company I wanted to do my apprenticeship with.

Until a team from Nifco came into my school and talked to us about the opportunities that were available on our doorstep, I hadn’t even thought about what I was going to do when I "grew up". But at that moment, it all seemed to just fall into place. It helped that a lot of my schoolmates were also applying for – and getting jobs at – Nifco at the same time, so I applied, too.

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'You can't beat theory and on-the-job training'

I interviewed to be a polymer apprentice, but the managers told me that because of my attitude and skills, I was well suited to a career in logistics – that was back in 2013, and I have never looked back. I finished my apprenticeship in 2016 and have since been promoted to logistics supervisor. My family are proud of me, not only for gaining a good career, but also for being determined to learn more and move up the ladder.

Within my current job role, I am involved in many of the day-to-day tasks that are required to ensure all on-time deliveries are made, such as reporting shortages, picking parts and coordinating transport. This has meant that a lot of my time has been spent in despatch which has allowed me to go on to look at the logistics processes we currently use, and, along with my colleagues, we have looked to improve various processes to save time, money and improve the efficiency of the warehouse. 

I have supported various changes and activities that have saved the company both time and money. In addition to this, I have developed my own project, which involved the installation of a pallet wrap machine. This is something I am particularly proud of, as it saves the company over £7,000 per year – the company plans to add more of these because of the demonstrable benefit. I also spent time with the Kaizen (the Japanese principle of continuous improvement) team for a few months at the end of my apprenticeship to look at the improvement of processes throughout the factory, mainly in manufacturing.

Personal development

Aside from the core learning I expected from my apprenticeship in logistics – such as stock management, logistical analysis, customer support and all things related to logistics – I have learned so much more than I ever could have dreamed of. My time at Nifco has been invaluable to my own personal development. I have built confidence in my own ability to carry out my tasks, I am able to form and maintain relationships that I don’t think would have been possible without this apprenticeship. For example, Nifco has had visits from members of the Royal family and the president of the Nifco Group and I have met and even presented my work for some of these people – something which has been a great experience and opportunity.

The fact that I was selected to present a project regarding Kaizen to the global president of Nifco is something that fills me with pride.  The delivery led to my secondment to the Kaizen team – something that wasn’t part of my original apprenticeship and adds a different capability to my skillset.

My future isn’t mapped out right now, but I plan to do more of the same. Keep asking questions, keep learning and keep making the most of the opportunities available to me so that I can continue to climb the career ladder. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to do my apprenticeship with Nifco, I’ve learned and earned at the same time, and in my opinion, you can’t beat theory and on-the-job training at the same time. There is a strong group around me, many of the whom have worked in logistics for more than 20 years, who are there to support me when I need it. It is a great team to be part of.

Francesca Clarke completed an apprenticeship in logistics with automotive plastics company Nifco. Her story is part of the #InspiringApprentices campaign


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