Apprentice Training: The Early Years, Part 1

Today we’re excited to bring you the first in a multi-part blog series focused on Michelin’s apprentice training. Written by our volunteers – many of whom were apprentices themselves – and featuring a selection of wonderful photographs from the Archive collection we hope you’ll enjoy this detailed look at an important part of Michelin’s history.

Many types of engineer were required to run a large concern such as Michelin – people to design and install new plant and machinery, to provide the electrical and fluid services and of course to maintain everything. From the beginning in 1927 apprentice engineers had been trained in the traditional manner- carrying out errand duties and working in the Engineering Stores until they reached 16 years of age, followed by learning a trade from a craftsman. Such a method could produce good craftsmen but too much was left to chance so in 1951 the new French Head of Factory decided that an Apprentice School would be created where apprentices would receive proper off-the-job training.

However, this new training scheme was much more than just teaching practical engineering skills and the March 1952 edition of Bibendum (Michelin UK’s house magazine) described five specific objectives which can be summarised as:

  • to provide a thorough training in the correct use of hand and simple machine tools
  • to encourage an outlook of self-criticism and self-correction
  • to divide the available time to practical, theoretical and physical training in a balanced training programme so that the apprentices simultaneously develop in physique, skill and technical ability
  • to ensure that candidates for the drawing offices and other technical services receive some training in workshop practice
  • to acquaint apprentices with the wider practical world of industry and to ensure that they become responsible citizens

In fact, the Evening Sentinel coined the headline ‘MORE OF A PHILOSOPHY’ in a 1958 article to describe Michelin’s apprentice training scheme.

The new school opened its doors to the first intake of eleven apprentices in September 1951 – Michael Beswick, Paul Curtis, Graham Fowler, Peter Greenshield, Peter Hambley, Brian Harris, Graham Heeks, Brian Holmes, Douglas Johnson, John Newman and Peter Webster. They came from a variety of local schools, including Stanfield Tech, Newcastle High, St Joseph’s College, Hanley High and Longton High.

Learning to use hand tools in the bench fitting section
Using a lathe in the machining section
A theory lesson from the instructor, RJ Swift (from Bibendum Magazine)

A typical week for an apprentice consisted of practical and classroom training, day release (which included the evening) at the North Staffordshire Technical College to study for a National Certificate, physical training, and English language skills. General Studies classes were held on Saturday mornings.

The first apprentices receive instruction on how to vault, 1952 (from Bibendum Magazine)
Arnold Machin, Bob Robinson and Tom Beeston exercising with medicine balls, c1956

Prospective apprentices were required to sit an entrance exam. Various venues were used, including the Michelin Athletic Club, Penkhull Secondary Modern and Oakhill Schools. It helped if you had family working at Michelin, but this was no guarantee of being accepted! The apprenticeship was five years’ duration with the first three years spent in the Apprentice School.

New apprentices, who were probationers for six months, were taught the fundamentals of general engineering before specialising in a particular craft or profession – Fitter, Fabricator, Pipefitter-welder, Machinist or Electrician. Apprentices on the shop floor could be identified by the yellow epaulettes worn on their blue boiler suits.

In the early 50s, selected ‘shop boys’ could follow a pre-apprenticeship comprising 4 hours per week in the Apprentice School and day release for further education.

Would-be apprentices sitting the entrance exam in the Michelin Athletic Club, 1957

That’s it for The Early Years, Part 1 – keep an eye on the blog for Part 2 as well as further posts in the apprentice training series which will be published over the next few months.

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