Why Skills Factory is a golden opportunity for Sandwell businesses


Melvin Wingfield, Director at A&M EDM Limited in Smethwick, and a member of Sandwell Business Ambassadors, looks at how his business has benefitted from the free training resources available through the Black Country Skills Factory.

As a director at a Black Country precision engineering firm, I am responsible for a range of functions, including finance, HR and procurement.

In these uncertain times, businesses such as ours must, more than ever, address the skills gap and upskill employees, investing in skills development to drive tangible benefits.

There are barriers to this, of course – not least budgets and an opportunity cost of the people being out of the business while they receive the training – but the long-term benefits are massive; people are upskilled, it boosts their self-esteem and they get a much better understanding of the organisation.

We first heard about the bite-sized training available through Black Country Skills Factory via a series of emails from various sources, including the LEP, Sandwell Council and the Skills Factory itself.

I didn’t react immediately – initially I was sceptical, and you think there must be a cost or a catch, but the more we explored it, it seemed an easy decision for us to make, because it met the training need and the courses were free.

It is important that it’s free to the end user; there’s a slight time commitment with filling in the forms initially, but then it becomes a template every time after that, that’s easy to replicate.

The Skills Factory is the umbrella, the facilitator; there are lots of providers across the greater Black Country region and beyond – in Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Aldridge, and at Wolverhampton University and Walsall College.

The training on offer covers every aspect of your business, from the back office to the shop floor –  basic office software, health and safety, right through to welding and CAD courses; a huge range, far too many to list here.

It’s great value for money; just one of the training courses, which ran over six half day sessions, would have cost up to £2,000 elsewhere, and the beauty is you can train extra people who might only use that skill occasionally, but if we were paying there wouldn’t be a business case for it.

The benefits are huge and we have success stories across the business; one guy in his late 40s who works as a CNC operator and apprentice mentor office had three days  AutoCAD training at Wolverhampton University, and the difference that has made to his productivity and personal self-esteem has been massive. I’m not saying there is a direct link, but another employee we sent on a welding course has since gone on to a two-year degree at Wolverhampton University that we have paid for.

We’ve estimated that over the last 18 months, A&M has received over £30,000 worth of training through the Skills Factory; I’m told by someone at the LEP that we have consumed more training than any other company in the Black Country.

I can’t believe that every employer in the region is not making use of this facility. I accept that there is an opportunity cost when you send your employee offsite, but that is the only cost and the benefits are massive.

We couldn’t have afforded the amount of training that we have consumed; there’s no business case sometimes for the training; you just know that it will do someone good. From the individual perspective, we can’t consume enough – it makes them feel good about themselves, and the fact that people are taking an interest in them and their future.

For more information on the Black Country Skills Factory:


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