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Training in the correct key;FE Focus

Bouncing skills to the top of the agenda. Neil Munro sees how one company invests in its people

Scottish Enterprise chose Keystone United Kingdom in Glasgow as a model company to launch its skills strategy.

The trailblazing company, within striking distance of Ibrox Stadium, produces vaves to be used for such diverse industries as food processing and petroleum refining.

Scottish Enterprise believes Keystone lives up to its name as a key performer. The company runs a hi-tech manufacturing plant operating in a fiercely competitive international market from a base in one of Scotland's disadvantaged areas. Scottish Enterprise also selected Keystone as a business which has training at the heart of its strategy.

Plant manager Jack McGowan, says many employers are overly concerned about the costs of training. "My simple answer to that is 'What is the cost of not training'?" "It's particularly important to have quality training when you're putting in new technology because it makes for a smoother transition and makes things more acceptable to people," he says.

Keystone has won many plaudits for its training - the international quality standard ISO 9001 in 1984, the Digital Training Award in 1991 and was awarded Investor in People status in 1993. In 1995 a National Training Award followed for new technology and staff training developments.

Keystone has found its approach pays. A pound;3 million investment in new technology and training over the past two years helped boost productivity by 50 per cent. Completion time from raw materials to finished product has been slashed from 14 weeks to three.

None of the 135 staff at the Glasgow plant is deemed too old to learn. Bobby Weir, a 60-year-old assembler on the shopfloor, has been with the company for 11 years after being made redundant from Chrysler's Linwood car plant. Mr Weir is now the proud recipient of Scotvec's stamp of approval.

Mr MacGowan says it took him "18 months of hard-bargaining" to convince Scotvec to approve customised courses which suit his needs. The company insists on developing its own technician training, with help from Reid Kerr College in Paisley.

Keystone staff are sent on day-release to the college which teaches courses the company has designed. Mr McGowan says: "I found in the past that, while National Certificate courses were very good for general apprentice training, they were not tailor-made for what we needed.

"Education and training must be relevant to workshop practice. But I found colleges who said they could only do A, B and C and I had to say "no, I want D, E and F." But he praises Reid Kerr for being "very responsive".

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