Career snapshot - Mike Chapman reflects on his 50-year career in the clay industry

Clay Technology magazine
14 Oct 2013

Mike Chapman, former Factory Manager at Ibstock Brick’s Dorket Head facility in Nottingham, UK, took the time to answer four quick questions on his day-to-day duties. Eoin Redahan reports.  

Tell me a bit about your career.
I retired in January this year after 47 years’ working in the brick industry for a variety of companies in the production and manufacturing parts of the business. Since then, I’ve been working part-time for Ibstock Brick and am helping put together training courses to pass on knowledge and skills to the next generation. We realise as an industry that we’ve got to address succession planning and the ageing workforce time bomb before skills and experience are lost in the manufacture of clay bricks.

What does a typical working day involve?
In my previous working life, I was responsible for Ibstock’s largest and most modern brickmaking factories, in the UK’s East Midlands, where the products we made were particularly targeted to the housebuilder market. It was a 24/7 operation, in which we employed about 70 people. In my job as factory manager, I had responsibility for the entire manufacturing operation, from the quarry right through to ensuring that the right products of the right quality were available for delivery to our customers, while also ensuring that the operations met exacting environmental and health and safety standards. Recently, I’ve been working on two particular areas – one has been helping the company carry out a review of its water use at a variety of sites. I have assisted other experts within the company and an outside consultant identifying where improvements are feasible to achieve. The other part has been helping to devise a series of internal courses for Ibstock personnel, in which we identify skills gaps for the future and various technical issues in relation to the manufacture of clay brick. This can range from maintenance, good practice, energy use and plant operation (particularly with our kilns and dryers).

In your 27 years at Ibstock, of what products are you most proud?
Because our products go into new housebuilding, they are seen as the wallpaper for the exterior of the house. As such, the industry needs to make sure it has a lot of products always ready to stimulate market demand. Developing new brick colours and textures has been an integral part of my role.

Name one area where the clay brick industry faces stiff competition.
There are a lot of new cladding materials that are competing with facing materials – concrete, glass and plastic being the main ones. It’s up to brick manufacturers to promote the sound environmental benefits of using clay products, combined with new ideas and solutions that meet our customers’ needs.