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Paddle Your Own Canoe

Getting on for forty years now, I’ve been involved with running foundries. One of the things that has grown in importance and frustration over this time has been the ability to access craft and technical training tailored to the foundry industry. I was lucky. I was one of the last people to be able to do a degree level course in what was basically ‘How to Run a Foundry’ – Metallurgical Engineering and Management at Loughborough University. It declined from a four year sandwich BTech to an elective in the final year of the Production Engineering course to nothing. As far as I am aware, there isn’t currently a similar course available anywhere in the UK. Craft training went much the same way. Seven year apprenticeships with a City and Guilds in Moulder Coremaker vanished years ago. Various colleges tried to offer something but all these stopped or tried to shoe horn a foundry course into something else such as a welding one which never really worked.

The reasons for this and the resultant cries from my industry of a lack of skills are many. A failure of firms to invest in training, a mind-set from some people that training should be funded by someone else such as government and the general decline in the number of people employed in foundries which meant that we just didn’t have enough trainees to make it commercially viable for colleges to offer courses. An increasing lack of qualified and experienced trainers didn’t help either. It got to a stage a few years ago where something had to happen or we were in danger of loosing the ability to attract young people into the industry due to a lack of suitable, career building training.

Up stepped the Institute of Cast Metals Engineers, our foundry professional body. It’s been around for quite a while and has always been interested in training and professional development. It took the view that if no one else was going to provide a nationally available framework for foundry skills from craft moulding upwards, the industry was going to have to do it themselves. 

Having seen how foundry training has gone over the past years, I never thought I’d be able to say this but they’ve done it resulting in the new and incredibly shiny National Foundry Training Centre. Its a collaboration between the ICME and the University of Wolverhampton and will be taking it’s first students this year, offering a variety of courses to cover the training needs of my industry. It also forms part of the Elite Centre for Manufacturing Skills (ECMS), a £12.6M investment in skills training for the casting and metal-forming industries. You can read more about it here

Which brings me back to the title of the post. Paddle your own canoe. It’s no good thinking someone else is going to solve your training problems for you. They wont. The only way it’s going to happen is for groups of like minded people getting together and sorting it out for themselves. It’s taken that sort of commitment from a range of organisations to achieve this. The ICME, Wolverhampton University, Dudley College, The Cast Metals Federation (CMF) and Thomas Dudley Ltd, the Black Country foundry on who’s site the training centre has been built. I’m sure there has been equally valuable input from other organisations and my apologies if I’ve missed anyone out. Links to more info about the ones I’ve mentioned are here. 

ICME. University of Wolverhampton. Dudley College. CMF. ECMS. Thomas Dudley Ltd.

All it needs now is for the foundry industry to support it for without that support, no matter how passionate the trainers are, it will fail.

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Mike Naylor