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The Reyrolle Story: 52 - A Training Revolution

...During the last decade of the twentieth century, Reyrolle management seemed to develop a new social responsibility regarding education and training...

Robert Owen continues his history of the Tyneside manufacturing firm Reyrolle.

To purchase a copy of Robert's book please visit http://www.amazon.co.uk/Reyrolle-Story-History-Co-Ltd/dp/1905295073/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245678876&sr=1-1

During the last decade of the twentieth century, Reyrolle management seemed to develop a new social responsibility regarding education and training.

For example, Reyrolle staff organised a very successful Book Fair, which became an annual event, to help supply local children with suitable reading material. Then MD, Stan Jones, suggested to the local Training and Enterprise Council that they sponsor a Science Fair to raise awareness of technology in Schools. The first such fair was held in Gateshead Metro Centre and involved over 60 schools.

Also, to help local unemployed teenagers gain vocational experience, a Youth Training School was opened on the firm's premises and a programme known as "Compact" promoted active employer involvement with local schools. To advance the idea of interaction between industry and education, Reyrolle Director, Graham Shepley, shadowed the local Director of Education for a specific period.

Within the Company, training was reorganised. Gone were the days of a five year apprenticeship with youngsters spending most of their time on piece-work in the factory. Graduates were now preferred and individual learning programmes were designed. Employee empowerment was the key.
New initiatives were born. A Development Centre was opened where employees could develop their computing and language skills. Special academic programmes were designed in liaison with South Tyneside College to suit the needs of the Company. During the 1990s Reyrolle also won many awards for its educational initiatives and its quality of training.
The outdoors played a maj or part in this training revolution. Students were sponsored on the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme, the three Peak's Race and the Keilder Challenge. Senior managers did not escape and were actively involved in programmes known as Otterburn I and II. These outdoor, practical courses never lost anyone but there were some near misses. One well known manager requested the removal of a rather large colleague from his team so he could achieve a greater speed on the quad cross-country course. On succeeding he didn't allow for the weight difference, failed to take a corner and tried to climb a tree with his machine!

The Company's new social conscience was further evidenced in 1994 when it invited back its former long serving Mens' Employment Officer, Wilf Pollard, to a special buffet lunch to celebrate his 90th birthday. Wilf lived until five days before his 96th birthday in 2000, when he was possibly the last living person to have met Alphonse Reyrolle. His daughter, Maureen Walker, said at the time, "Many jobs have been shed since his retirement in 1968, which saddened him greatly. He was only glad he had not to impose mass redundancies, he was too kind and gentle for that".

Throughout its long history, Reyrolle was never troubled by a major fire. This was credit to the staff at the Short Circuit Testing Station where only one serious incident took place during 50 years of testing. Minor incidents were efficiently dealt with by the firm's own trained officers until 1994.
During that year the local fire brigade was called to deal with a major chemical fire. Over eighty fire fighters fought to keep toxic fumes away from local houses where some residents were trapped indoors for several hours.

With a much smaller workforce and changed ownership of Reyrolle's former sports ground, interest in the Company's sports activities faded. As teams withdrew from their respective leagues and groups disbanded, the sports ground became a community rather than a Company facility.

Meanwhile, on the industrial front, prospects looked far from encouraging for Rolls-Royce Power Engineering - including the Reyrolle element. Overall, turnover fell by 20% in 1995 and with no new UK generating stations on the horizon and the increasing use of low cost gas, the future looked bleak. So bad was the situation, Rolls-Royce let it be known that the former Parsons' element of the business would either be closed or sold. After some negotiation, the giant organisation Siemens became the purchaser. The Reyrolle element stayed with Rolls-Royce and became part of their Transmission and Distribution Division.

Against a background of a New Labour government led by Tony Blair, Reyrolle management, aware that a similar thing might at anytime happen to their element of the organisation, hastily sought an alternative solution that was acceptable to themselves.


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