Apprentice Training: The Early Years, Part 2

Welcome back to the second instalment of our blog series focusing on Michelin’s apprentice training, which began last time with The Early Years, Part 1. 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.

Within a few years the scheme outgrew its premises and in 1955 a new purpose-built apprentice school was opened. The premises were bright and airy and included changing facilities and showers for the daily physical training which took place over the road on the sports field. This year also saw the first direct entry ‘pre-apprentices’, who followed a full-time one year course of two days in the Apprentice School, two days in a production department, day release, and General Studies on Saturday mornings.

Construction of the new apprentice training school (Bdg 48A)
Apprentices putting the final touches to the new apprentice school ready for its opening on the 29th August 1955
Inside the new apprentice school

By now the General Studies programme included voluntary community service on a Saturday afternoon, attendance at a four day ‘Young Workers’ course at the Wedgwood Memorial College in Barlaston, and a 14 mile hike to Dimmingsdale in the Churnet Valley, with an overnight stay in the YMCA hostel. Third and fourth year apprentices enjoyed overnight trips including lectures at the Science Museum in London.

Tony Bailey, Arnold Machin, Bill Ikin and Terry Spooner, four of the 1955 Intake apprentices receiving their weekly dose of ultra-violet light

Such was the popularity of the scheme that the spring of 1958 saw 347 youngsters applying and taking written exams and practical dexterity tests at the Penkhull Secondary Modern School. The next stage in the selection process for eighty of these candidates was an expedition to Snowdon! Camping in bell tents, each team of eight had to successfully get to the summit – all the time under the watchful eye of an instructor! Twenty would eventually be offered pre-apprenticeships and twenty five full apprenticeships. 1958 also saw the first female apprentice and the introduction of both the Production Apprenticeship and Technician Apprenticeship, with 2 and 4 apprentices respectively.

By 1959 the second stage of the selection process had been changed to initiative and team work challenges at Dimmingsdale. An expedition to Snowdon remained as part of the General Studies programme until the 1980s.

Getting ready for the annual expedition to Snowdon, May 1958
The 1958 Intake of apprentices and pre-apprentices
Apprentice Selection – team challenges at Dimmingsdale, 1959

In 1958 a silver cup was presented to the company by the City of Stoke on Trent to show its gratitude for all that is being done by Michelin in the training of young people. The cup, initially presented by the Lord Mayor, the Rev Arthur Perry, was to be given annually to the ‘Apprentice of the Year’.

The first recipient of the cup was Kenneth McCombie, the presentation taking place on a makeshift stage in the apprentice school.

In the ensuing years the naming of the Apprentice of the Year became the culmination of a Training Awards Night held annually at the Kings Hall, Stoke. As the UK Group expanded in the 70s similar events were organised in both Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Kenneth McCombie, the first winner of the City of Stoke on Trent ‘Apprentice of the Year’ cup, receiving his award (from Bibendum Magazine)

The success and quality of the apprentices produced by the scheme was such that from 1955 to 1965 no less than 12 Michelin apprentices represented Great Britain in International Apprentice Competitions (for more details see the blog post of Les Woolley’s memories representing Great Britain).

Clive Barker, Geoff Bladen, Mike Davies and Stuart Maydew at Stoke Station on their way to the 1960 International Apprentice Competition in Barcelona

Both the Student and the Administrative apprentice schemes commenced in 1960, and the following year, 1961, saw the first eight apprentices being recruited at Burnley.

There’s more to come in the apprentice training series as we move on from The Early Years and instead focus on developments from the 1960s up to the present day – stay tuned!

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