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Westwood Works 1903-2003

The End of an Era


The Background to Change

During the late 1970s/early 1980s, the nature of British industry was changing very rapidly. Many of the country's traditional industries were lost to lower cost overseas competition, and those that remained had to adapt to changing technologies. This meant for instance the introduction of automated production machinery, a move to Computer Aided Design and Manufacture, and the more widespread use of integrated IT systems throughout the business. These changes all meant more output could be achieved by fewer people - provided they had the necessary new skills.

This was also a time of dramatic changes in the education system with many more students being encouraged to remain at school beyond the statutory school leaving age, and a massive expansion in the provision of university education. This was a reflection of the government's understanding that if the country was to compete internationally, it was essential to have an extremely highly educated and trained workforce.

These developments combined to change the nature of apprentice training within the company. Many of the traditional craft apprentice types, who had left school at 15 or 16 and had then gone on to study to ONC or HNC/HND level were now leaving school much later and were also in many cases able to take university degrees. To attract this same level of talent the company needed a different form of apprenticeship. However, recruiting the same level alone was not enough - the company also had to change significantly the manpower structure of the business, recruiting many more high calibre professional engineers, specialising not only in the traditional mechanical engineering disciplines, but also bringing new expertise in electronics, control systems and process technologies.

The Company Response to Change - the Growth of the Student Apprenticeship

These developments dictated a new approach to apprentice training at Westwood. Despite its glittering history and iconic status and the contribution towards running costs made over a number of years by EITB grants and the MSC, it was inevitable that serious questions would have to be asked about the costs associated with the Apprentice School in the changing business environment. Not only was the number of craft apprentices required by the business falling rapidly but out of the difficulties of the 1970s was born a growing realisation that the skills required to compete in the new world environment at the end of the twentieth century and on into the next, would be very different from those that had been required in the post-war period. The engineers of the future would need to be brighter and better educated. The training that they would require would have to be radically different from what had gone before. A growing emphasis was therefore placed on the recruitment and development of "Professional Engineers" educated to degree standard and developed to achieve Chartered Engineer status as members of one of the professional engineering institutions. This resulted in a shift of emphasis from craft apprenticeships to Student and Graduate Apprenticeships. The Student Apprenticeship involved taking a 3 or 4-year degree course, preceded by a full pre-university year working in the company, and followed by a post-graduation year preparing for the first post-training appointment. The Baker Perkins student sponsorship programme (and particularly its pre-university year) became as renowned nationally as its craft apprenticeship training had always been, and was in great demand.

1987 saw the end of an era. This was the year of assimilation and rationalisation at Group level as, following the merger in March 1987, APV, Baker Perkins and Pasilac were formed into a single entity. Poor results in 1986 and 1987 were followed by the announcement of another restructuring exercise at Peterborough, now called APV Baker. The new company formed with effect from January 1st 1988, had three trading divisions from the Bakery and BCS companies:

Many departments within the Holding Company that would not normally be part of a parent company were transferred to one or other of the 3 subsidiaries; the Apprentice School went to Printing, quite logically, as the majority of craft apprentices were always destined for the Printing side of the business.

The former Baker Perkins had by now changed out of all recognition. The foundry machinery business had been sold at the end of 1984 and, soon after the merger with APV, the packaging machinery and chemical machinery companies had been disposed of. In 1989, the Printing Machinery business was sold to Rockwell UK Ltd. The sale included a substantial part of the Westwood Works manufacturing and office facilities as well as a lease on the Apprentice School. This lease incorporated an agreement that Rockwell would conduct the initial training of APV Baker apprentices in the School.

All these developments meant that the new APV Baker had quite a different skills base requirement to that of the former Baker Perkins Ltd. The company’s skilled workforce in Peterborough had fallen from the 2-2500 of the mid-1950s, when a considerable manpower shortage created the need to train between 50 and 70 apprentices each year, to 300-350 skilled craftsmen. In addition, the APV group had four other operating sites in the UK all with surplus manufacturing capacity.

As far as Baker Perkins (and later APV Baker) was concerned, craft apprentice intakes had continued each year from 1980 onwards but in smaller numbers, and by 1987, only 50 apprentices were being trained at Westwood. Craft Apprentice training itself had changed, being condensed into a 3½ year module with initial 'on-the-job’ training taking place over the first 9 months, coupled with day release at Technical College over 2¾ years with the balance being 'on-the-job' training. The Company's commitment to training was undiminished but the requirements of the company had changed in that more graduate professional engineers were required, with 64 graduates being recruited between 1986 and 1991. In 1991, APV Baker was sponsoring 56 Student Apprentices - 46 at Peterborough/Bedewell and 10 at Stoke. This move to recruit and develop a new breed of "Professional Engineers" prompted a move to transfer the initial off-the-job training to Peterborough Regional College both to strengthen the Company's links with the College and to achieve a higher level of training more economically.

The most significant part of the new training regime was the ‘pre-university year’. Students were recruited at the end of their final year of ‘A’ level study. They then spent a year with the Company learning the basics of engineering and commerce, before going to university.

The students returned to the company during their summer vacations and on graduation. These periods of training took them into a range of company departments to obtain a full understanding of how the business operated. These departments included production control, production engineering, quality control, field engineering and service. They also spent time in R&D/design, and commercial departments including purchasing.

All these changes:

meant that the Apprentice School was no longer the appropriate vehicle to launch new engineers into a career with the Company.

In 1991, APV Baker, essentially the remaining Baker Perkins businesses, moved to a new, purpose-built factory at Paston, on the eastern outskirts of Peterborough, where appropriate training facilities – including a replica of the Management Training suite that had existed on the first floor above the Apprentice School - had been incorporated into the design of the new factory. An offer was made to Rockwell to either buy the School or extend the lease but Rockwell declined and closed the Apprentice School in June 1991, making redundant all their first year apprentices, students and instructors. APV Baker took on three of these apprentices and 8 of the students. Rockwell closed the Westwood site at the end of 1992.

The Apprentice School building was acquired in 1995, together with the Holding Company building, by a cable TV company and today (2008) is owned by Virgin Media.

Apprentices at all levels continued to be recruited and trained at Paston and, with the acquisition of APV Baker by two entrepreneurs in 2006, the newly independent company reverted to the name “Baker Perkins” once again.

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