Aycliffe Fabrications - Katie Flanagan and Apprentice Matthew Brown

A huge part of what we do here at UTC is engaging with employers for out students to gain the best experience possible in thier time here. Katie Flanagan, Business Manager at Aycliffe Fabrications has written about working alongside us and our students.

I’m Katie Flanagan and I’m the Business Manager at Aycliffe Fabrications. For those who don’t know Aycliffe Fabrications, we’re a local metal fabrication company on the Business Park and we’ve been here for almost 40 years. We’re probably best known for the our image, the head sculpture at the entrance to the business park. 

How did we start working with the UTC?

Tom came to visit us before the UTC opened when they were trying to get businesses on board who could offer their students work experience. At the time, we were very small and could not commit to offering work experience that would be beneficial to the UTC or students. This had prevented us working with other providers in the past. However, Tom and the UTC realised that there were other ways that we could support them. This led to us sponsoring the Science Magnates. 

We decided to sponsor the Science Magnates as we feel it is really important that children are introduced to science and engineering from an early age to allow them to develop their interest and passion throughout their school years. The Science Magnates certainly make science and engineering interesting – much different to when I studied physics at 6th form and engineering at university.

We have also been involved in judging the student industry projects over the last two years. Christine, our Managing Director, and I have been on the judging panel and we have both said how impressed we were with the standard of work produced, the effort that the students have shown and confidence in demonstrating their work. It was good for the students to get feedback from people working in the engineering industry and also from a small business point of view, ie how in a small company, everyone is involved in a project. 

I have also helped out with the mock assessment day. I was able to see how well the students prepared for their assessments and I was very impressed with how serious they took it and how they were committed to all the tasks they were asked to do. At the time, we were starting our apprenticeship recruitment process so it helped to see what tasks they were asked to do (so that I could pinch and adapt some for us!). 

As a small company, taking on an apprentice is a huge investment but we know how important it is to invest in our future. We have had two students who came for interview from the UTC who we invited back for work experience. We have been extremely impressed with how well the students have done, from their initial CV’s and covering letters, interview preparation, the actual interview itself and the work experience. We had a very difficult choice on deciding which one to take! 

We have given feedback to the UTC on how the students have performed and also what would have helped the students, especially in the work experience (ie more practical work). The great thing about the UTC is that they listen to what we say and we work together to improve things for the furture. 

We have a good relationship with Catherine and Cherakee in the business engagement team at UTC and are looking to work towards building relationships with teaching staff too. We are hoping to hold an open day next term for the teachers to visit Aycliffe Fabrications as we feel it is vital that the teachers understand what we do and how to apply that knowledge in the classroom. Small companies like us are so varied and the work we do is often bespoke, so it’s important for teachers to see what skills we need so that they can guide their students into making the right choices for their future. The UTC are happy to work with small companies and not just the more recognised bigger names we have on the business park and we are keen to work even closer with them so that they and thier students understand more about our needs as a business. 

I admit, it is hard for a small company to find the time and resources to commit to supporting the UTC but we feel the support is rewarded. We are happy to spend time helping the students and teachers and sponsoring the science magnates and in turn, the UTC provide us with help and expertise (eg recently they produced some end caps that were made on their 3D printer which we used on an actual job for a real commercial client). They also promote Aycliffe Fabrications on their website and in reception – and any promotion for us is very welcome. 

Since I started with Aycliffe Fabrications two years ago, it has allowed both Christine and myself to spend more time here at the UTC working with both the students and staff. We hope that we can continue to support each another for many years to come. We recently hired an apprentice, and that apprentice was a UTC student. This is testament to the young people and the skills that they are learning at UTC and Matthew was just thr right fit for us and our business need.

Matthew said, "I am very excited about getting up and going to work every day. University was not the right choice for me and in this apprenticeship I will be able to build upon the technical skills that I learned at UTC in the engineering hall and really put them into action. Just in my first week I have already worked on real client orders, it's brilliant. I'm really looking forward to my future there."