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Delivering Specialist Skills for Industry: an Interview with Katie Hedges, Head of Operations and Membership at CATCH

10:39 am, Wednesday, 1st May 2019 - 5 years ago

Katie Hedges explains how CATCH embraced the universal issue of training and became a role model for collaboration

What does CATCH do?

CATCH is, on the face of it, a membership organisation for industrial businesses. But its remit stretches far beyond connecting its members. Katie Hedges describes it as an industry facility, providing ongoing aftercare and support for businesses that set up in the Humber region’s power generation and ports sector. It forms a natural focal point for community and collaboration.

On-the-job training without on-the-job hazards

In high-hazard professions, the immense temperatures and pressures, caustic chemicals and powerful equipment mean it’s impossible for unskilled beginners to train on the job. In the early 2000s, the South Humber industrial sector had plenty of classroom courses, but was facing a gap in practical training.

CATCH responded by building a unique physical space for teaching and assessing specialist engineering and technical skills. Set up with the support of the local council, the CATCH training facility provides full-scale, industry-equivalent work spaces minus the risk. It builds a critical bridge between classroom learning and on-the-job experience.

The facility features a range of work environments, such as reactors containing cool water rather than feedstock, oil refinery equipment that’s safely onshore, and most recently, a nacelle from a wind turbine which – conveniently for beginners – isn’t hundreds of feet in the air.

From first career steps to cutting-edge skills

“CATCH’s training activities fall into two main categories,” Katie explains. “There are 16-18 year-olds coming from education and gaining skills to begin a career. They carry out a year’s apprenticeship at the facility, coming to work each day and learning in a realistic work environment with the support of their tutors and instructors.

“Then there are mid-career professionals from CATCH member companies. They come to the facility for assessment of their skills and a chance to expand their knowledge base. Skills assessment is always relative to a common benchmark or a company’s pre-defined criteria.”

Maintaining the region’s specialist skills base

As the South Humber region continues to boom, there’s an ongoing hunger for industry-focused training, and CATCH is kept busy with everything from teaching teens to working with university partners on higher-level skills.

“There’s an ever-shifting pattern of availability and demand for specialist mechanical and industrial skills,” says Katie. “Each company takes a different approach to recruitment, from training up from scratch to hiring in experienced staff.”

As a result, CATCH’s offering needs to be diverse to serve the needs of the industry – both for permanent staff who are locally based, and contractors who may be operating internationally.

What makes the South Humber region such a hub for industry?

“Businesses choose the region for a number of reasons,” explains Katie. “In practical terms, there is good land available in an industrial area. There are port and rail connections. There’s energy production, with power stations and a growing renewables sector.”

“There’s also well-developed infrastructure in place, and good labour supply. A business setting up here may well find opportunities for its products in the local supply chain.”

Value-adding through collaboration

“CATCH is a great example of collaboration locally,” says Katie. “Members of CATCH are represented as a group, and we’ve got specialist forums on things like safety and environment, productivity and operational improvement. When a regulatory change comes through, authorities can come and address 30 companies in one go.”

“There are few direct competitors, which is another benefit. Although there’s definitely a close relationship between what local businesses do, they’re rarely offering the same product or service, so the general culture is very collaborative and constructive.”

“The council works closely with CATCH too – there’s a strong relationship, and investors will always be met and embraced by both our organisations.