Growing Teesside business works to tackle skills shortage

A rapidly growing Teesside business has come up with its own solution to tackle a skills shortage.

Paralloy – a manufacturer of specialist high alloy steels – is inviting applications from people who are willing to switch careers.

In the past it has recruited a former Yarm restaurant owner, who is now the manager of its foundry in Billingham, and – through a mature apprenticeship scheme – recruited four trainee machinists for its site in Sheffield, including a man in his 50s who had spent thirty years working as a doorman.

Paralloy is currently advertising for 25 people for its main Billingham site and a further 10 at its works in TeesAMP in Middlesbrough.  Following a management buyout two years ago its sales have more than doubled to £60m and the workforce has increased by 100 to 350 across its three locations.

Paralloy CEO Robert McGowan (2nd left) with Tees Valley Combined Authority Mayor Ben Houchen

Paralloy CEO Robert McGowan (2nd left) with Tees Valley Combined Authority Mayor Ben Houchen

>The company’s customers include Siemens, Rolls Royce, Exxon, Sabic and GE and the demand for its services are growing.  It exports 95% of what it makes to 70 overseas markets.

But – as local politicians and business leaders have identified – there is a major skills gap in the Tees Valley at a time when the demand for labour is increasing as a result of the unprecedented investment in new industries.

Paralloy is planning to launch a major apprenticeship programme but it is targeting mature workers as well and offering them a good salary, excellent training and prospects.

Chief Executive Robert McGowan said: “We want people with a good work ethic who are willing to learn.  Pursuing new opportunities in a completely new field can super charge your career as well starting an exciting news phase in your life.

“It really doesn’t matter how old you are or what you’ve done before –  changing direction may just be the best decision you ever make.”

Forty-six-year-old Paul McEnaney, who lives in Stockton, spent 20 years working in hospitality.  He was the general manager of the iconic Purple Onion restaurant in Middlesbrough before owning Ciaras in Yarm.  He decided to sell the restaurant after hundreds of customers had to cancel their bookings during a spell of bad winter weather.

“It was really stressful.  I was taking everything home with me and I wasn’t sleeping very well,” said Paul.

Paul McEnaney - from Yarm restaurant owner to foundry manager

Paul McEnaney – from Yarm restaurant owner to foundry manager

He planned to become a regional manager of a restaurant chain, but in 2011 – while waiting for a suitable opportunity – started working at Paralloy’s foundry as a shop floor operator on a short-term contract.  His first job was to check that each charge – the raw materials which go into a furnace – had the right proportions and weight.

“I had no qualifications that related to this business.  I had trained in a kitchen so I could relate to recipes.  It was a bit like that: a little bit of this and that, and if you got it wrong you spoilt it,” said Paul.

“The appeal initially was clocking in and out and leaving it all at work rather than taking it home.  I felt better in myself and gradually I became more involved in what the company was doing and took a keen interest in the science of it all.”

He successfully applied for a role in the specification lab and in 2017 became a trainee metallurgist.  In September 2021 he was appointed the foundry manager.

“I was only planning to be here for six months,” said Paul.  “Running a restaurant couldn’t be further away from what I’m doing now, but I’m very, very glad I did make that change.  It’s all about your attitude and your desire to learn.”

Phil Irvine is a qualified motorcycle engineer but spent 30 years working as a doorman.  “It’s the type of job you can only do for so long.  I was getting older and it was time for a change,” he said.

Three years ago – when Phil was 55 – his son Thomas, who worked at Paralloy’s FVC site in Sheffield, told him the company was recruiting.  “I said surely they’re not taking on people my age…but he said give it a go,” recalled Phil.

Phil Irvine - from doorman to trainee machinist

Phil Irvine – from doorman to trainee machinist

FVC had just secured a major order and was having trouble recruiting machinists so launched a Mature Apprenticeship scheme.  Phil and three others were appointed.

“I wish I’d done it sooner,” he said.  “There’s a great work ethic.  There’s a good spirit there – you work as a team.  You know you’re doing a job that’s worthwhile.  It’s being used for a purpose that’s important.  Some of the stuff we do goes into aircraft engines and you can’t make mistakes with stuff like that because it costs lives.”

Another one of the Mature Apprentices was Tom Mathison, who is now 35.  After school he worked in sports retail and initially came to FVC as an agency worker before securing a permanent low-skilled job.

Tom Mathison

Tom Mathison

“I was happy working here but I wanted more of a challenge.  It’s a lot to take in, but as long as you want to learn the opportunity’s there,” said Tom.

“I was the wrong side of 30 but I still had more than 30 years to work.  Just because I’m 35 it doesn’t mean I can’t learn new stuff.  Even if you’re 40 or 50 you can still learn a new job.  I definitely made the right decision.”

Chief Executive Robert McGowan said: “My message is never stop learning.  There is always something new out there so why not believe in yourself and in new possibilities.

“If you like making things as a hobby this might be the time to use that interest and skills in a new job.   But – as Paul McEnaney has shown – having the right attitude and approach to work is the most important thing.”

For more details about Paralloy’s vacancies email and visit its website