By Andy Hirst

A manager who started as an apprentice at one of Huddersfield’s biggest and best-known companies is retiring today (Wed, Dec 14) after helping to transform its apprenticeship scheme into one of the best in the UK.

Ian Nunn was a 16-year-old apprentice fitter when he began his career at the former ICI which is now Syngenta on Leeds Road in Huddersfield in August 1977. The company makes products which help farmers tackle weeds, pests and diseases in plants.

Now, 45 years later, Ian is retiring from his role of apprenticeship manager with the scheme totally transformed over the last 12 years into one which has won a clutch of awards.

Since 2010 Syngenta in Huddersfield has taken on 84 apprentices with 80 of them finishing their apprenticeships and securing jobs with the company. Only four have left to pursue other options. Several are now in management roles on the Syngenta plant.

Ian, 61, of Mirfield, said: “We have to keep these skills in the UK so we need apprenticeships like never before to train a workforce up to the standards the industry requires.

“But, more than that, they bring fresh ideas into any organisation and question the way things are done and why. It’s good for any company to have young people coming through with an enthusiasm, a passion and a strong work ethic and that’s what we are seeing happening now.

“The chemical industry is no longer the heavy industrial workplace it once was. It’s now far more technical and computer controlled so needs people with critical thinking skills and the ability to solve problems.

“Successful apprenticeships bring a sense of loyalty and continuity to a company and our aim in 2010 was to have 20% of the workforce made up of staff who had come through the apprenticeship scheme. We are just about there with that and have a very high retention rate at Syngenta. Syngenta has a real community feel about the site and is seen as a very good place to work.”

Huddersfield Syngenta site apprenticeship manager Ian Nunn celebrates his retirement with young apprentices.

The apprenticeship roles used to be just on the engineering side but now include cyber security, health and safety, science manufacturing, business administration, production support and science. All apprentices have the opportunity to turn their qualifications into degree apprenticeships.

All the apprentices achieve technical qualifications, then vocational ones such as NVQs before going through a workplace programme to get that all-important on the job training.

Ian said: “I started as a fitter, learning on the job skills and then – such was the size of the company – I was able to move departments so had spells in design, then operating one of our manufacturing plants before going to the technical engineering department, taking new products into the laboratory and then scaling them up. So the apprenticeship stood me in good stead and got me going within the company.”

Ian moved into learning and development around 30 years ago, training staff to do vital roles such as plant operation and ensuring the health and safety standards were incredibly high.

Modest about his own achievements, he is keen to pay tribute to colleagues Nikita Seabright and former apprenticeship manager Nigel Wright, who retired in 2017. Ian says both have been instrumental in setting up and developing the successful Syngenta scheme.

In recent times the department has won apprenticeship awards, is rated highly in a scheme called Rate My Apprenticeship and several youngsters from Syngenta have won Apprentice of the Year awards.

Ian said: “When one of our youngsters wins an award it shows how well they’ve progressed but some of that success must also be down to a management that believes and invests in its workforce and the effort and time that more experienced colleagues put into teaching young people on the job skills. It really is a team effort. Without everyone being involved we simply couldn’t do it.”

Ian was highly commended earlier this year in the regional awards for Apprenticeship Champion of the Year 2022 run by the National Apprenticeship Service.

Ian is part of a network of Apprenticeship Ambassadors where companies exchange ideas about best practice in the sector.

Ian said: “There are a lot of local companies doing some great things with apprenticeships now but I like to think what we achieved here at Syngenta was pathfinding at the time we did it.

“We started our journey more than a decade ago and, in that time, we have shared learning from our experiences to help develop the next generation of skilled workers.”

The company now wants to build on the success of the apprenticeship programme.

Ian’s manager, Steve Convey, said: “What has been achieved over the years is a real credit to Ian and Nikita – and to Nigel before he retired.

“The apprenticeship programme at Huddersfield was inspired by skills shortages at that time within the UK chemical industry and has become an essential part of our sustainable workforce plan.

“We are now building on those firm foundations to create a flagship learning and development programme for all employees; continuing to make Syngenta a fantastic career choice and place to work.”

Ian now plans to retire with his wife, Joanna, and looks forward to spending more time on his hobbies of walking and going to music gigs.