15 June 2021
by Andrea Gaini

Building for the future

Andrea Gaini speaks to Paula Wardle MIMMM, Technical Learning & Development Manager at Ibstock PLC, about a role dedicated to nurturing the necessary skills for the future of the business.

© Paul Pickard/Ibstock

Growing up, Paula Wardle might not have known what she wanted to do professionally but she knew she found science interesting. Wanting to keep her options open, she took three sciences at O Level and two at A Level.

Raised in a single-parent family in the North-East of England, she explains that going to university after A levels was not really an option, ‘I needed to get a job and earn a living’.

On completing college, Paula started work as a laboratory technician with Tioxide UK. Two years later, after winning the Young Person of the Year for the Chemical Industry Award, she was offered a sponsorship to study a science subject at university.

‘I chose Materials Science and Engineering because one of my friends at the time was studying this at Sheffield University. I was having a look at some of his notes, I thought it was an interesting broad subject, giving me plenty of options to progress my career at the end of the course.’

In the making

After studying at Sheffield University, she started a Teaching Company Scheme Programme. ‘I was working as the Process Improvement Engineer between Aga-Rayburn and Wolverhampton University implementing process and quality control systems…for two years.’

When this programme ended, Paula joined a leading manufacturer of materialographic equipment and consumables as an Area Sales Manager. ‘[I was] selling equipment, consumables and services for materialographic surface preparation and analysis of solid materials to companies across the UK.’

 While the experience was valuable, it required many lonely hours on the road, which she recalls was rather solitary and something she was keen to move away from.

She applied for a role with the newly established Ceramic Industry Forum, and was luckily selected as one their new Process Engineers to receive training in continuous improvement (CI) techniques from experts from Nissan, Honda and Toyota.

‘The Industry Forum Network was set up by the government to train engineers to deliver improvement to any business through the use of CI tools and techniques.’

Paula’s work with Ceramics Industry Forum led to her first encounter with Ibstock. She recalls, ‘I met with Ibstock in 2005 when they were looking for somebody to deliver some training for the Business Improvement Techniques NVQ.’

By 2011, she was recruited as Ibstock’s Continuous Improvement Training Manager for manufacturing. She was in the role until 2018, when she moved into the position of Technical Learning & Development Manager within the HR department at Ibstock.

‘I love working with people and it is a privilege to have the opportunity to develop people and help them be the best they can possibly be,’ she enthuses.

group of apprentices
Paula Wardle and a team of apprentices © Ibstock

Nurturing talent

Ibstock has a long history of investing in apprenticeships. In 2011, the business made the decision to develop a group-wide comprehensive engineering apprenticeship programme, designed to deliver world-class engineering skills. The scheme contributes to the overall goal to grow the business by investing in people. In just a few years, Paula grew the Ibstock engineering apprenticeship into an award-winning scheme.

She explains, ‘Such schemes are absolutely essential to the future of the construction industry. With upwards of 40% of the industry’s workforce heading towards retirement over the next decade, there has never been a more important time for business across the sector to shore up their apprenticeship offering. [It’s a] chance to grow your own, making sure that they have the knowledge and skills that you require for your business, but also give young people that opportunity to gain business skills, gain life skills and to earn while they learn.’

Paula plays a key role in the scheme’s success – her personal belief echoes the corporate perspective that it is only by nurturing future talent that the business will have people with the technical expertise and skills to manufacture the products for years to come.

‘We’re not just offering them an apprenticeship, we are offering them a career in this industry, supporting their learning and development throughout their whole career.’

Ibstock offers two four-year engineering apprenticeship programmes – Advanced Mechanical Engineering and Advanced Electrical Engineering. In addition to the standard training, the company provides additional courses throughout the apprenticeship to complement and supplement the programme.

She notes that successful apprentices who complete the scheme, will have a job assured.

Bright future

Paula says her team is now focusing on working closely with schools and colleges to raise the profile of apprenticeships as a strong viable alternative to going to university.

She ends our interview with advice to future generations, that they should ‘seriously consider a good apprenticeship as a route to start your career, you will earn while you learn and gain experience at the same time, which is worth its weight in gold on the job market’.

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Andrea Gaini