Finding special people – Anglo Dutch Directors Club


Dutch housing executives taking part in a study visit to Staffordshire met young people whose lives and prospects are being transformed by the vocational and life-skills training provided by PM Training. Part of  we are aspire, the Newcastle-under-Lyme based social enterprise helps around 2,500 people each year to prepare for and find work.

In a region hit hard by the decline of the potteries industry and with low levels of educational attainment, the assessments, apprenticeships, work placements and personal support available from PM Training is much needed. The service works in partnership with 1,600 local employers and has provided more than 7,000 apprenticeships since we are aspire bought the company in 2008. The positive mindset, specialist skills and broader life experience available to trainees has a huge impact on them securing worthwhile and sustainable future careers.

It’s an accessible and different way to build a bright future for local people and the Staffordshire economy, focusing on employability and stable jobs as the keys to success. Unlike further education colleges, PM Training does not have academic terms – operating instead continuous, ‘roll on, roll off’ programmes in small groups of no more than eight trainees to help people be ready for work and to take up opportunities in the area.

The ten executives from woningstichtingen (housing associations) across the Netherlands were part of an exchange visit organised by the Anglo Dutch Directors Club (ADDC). The group meets twice each year – alternating between the two countries to share and compare business ideas and approaches. This event focused on how to achieve sustainable regeneration in an area affected by industrial change and a weak housing market.

Managing Director Will Nixon gave the visitors a guided tour of the bright and impressive training facilities housed in a converted pottery works, and explained the philosophy behind we are aspire’s decision to buy PM Training and two other local training companies.

“A large part of the issues faced by North Staffordshire start with people’s educational development. We believe that everyone who comes to us is a special person waiting to be found, and we aim to give people hope and direction. So we work with them as individuals to unlock their talents and interests and put them on a pathway to greatness.

“The companies we partner with want people who turn up reliably and on time, and who have the right skills, attitudes and behaviours. That’s what we instil from day one, so if a person comes here and applies those core principles, they will get a job and hopefully a fulfilling career. The companies buy in to giving young people a chance, and that’s good for the whole economy.”

PM Training was originally set up by local businessman Sean Canavan in 1982, who having left at school with few qualifications got a welding apprenticeship, which took him to work in the shipyards of Hamburg. During his 15 years there, he learnt about Germany’s ‘dual system’ for training young people, which he decided to bring back to Staffordshire to help those like him.

Sean’s son Daniel Canavan is now the Training Operations Director at PM Training – building on his late father’s legacy and maintaining the persistent but ‘zero tolerance’ and tough love approach that has served the company and its thousands of trainees so well. “We make a clear deal with each young person about what we can do, and what we expect from them. The vast majority respond to this and are keen to show us what they’re capable of. We offer everyone a fresh start and don’t give up on a young person if they’re striving to succeed, so we have very few problems here even though some learners come from difficult backgrounds. We won’t let someone’s past dictate their future.”

To propel learners into secure, permanent roles in local industries, PM Training runs a series of workforce development programmes including business administration, customer service, IT, construction, engineering, housing and social care. Artworks is one of these pathways, which enables people to use their skills to design, build and install beautiful public art works around the region. You’ll see Artworks sculptures and installations at parks, roundabouts and other public spaces and buildings across North Staffordshire – living proof of the amazing talents of special people and what sustainable regeneration looks like.

Ronald Leushuis, a board director from Talis in Nijmegen said: “I’m so impressed by PM Training – there are definitely things we can take back with us from here to do in the Netherlands. It’s a great learning expedition and experience.”