Meet Agfa Graphics - Industry Showcase - UTC Leeds

Global manufacturing company Agfa Graphics is a UTC Leeds employer partner. The company supplies material to the printing and graphical industries across the world. We met with Graham Cooper, Site Manager of Agfa’s Leeds’ factory – the only one in the UK – and a Director of Agfa operations in the UK. Graham is a Governor at UTC Leeds and member of the Trust Board.

What does Agfa produce at Leeds?

We manufacture lithographic printing plates. If you’ve seen a printing press, perhaps one of those newspaper printing presses where the papers whizz through, in the middle of that printing press are some sheets of aluminium with images on them, which are creating the print on the paper – we make those sheets of aluminium. We sell them to the printers blank and the printers puts their images on them. So in the case of newspapers, for example, they use a different printing plate for each edition.

How big is your operation here?

We currently have just over 90 full-time employees – including a large number of support staff for technical support, quality, finance and HR – plus a lot of trainees. There are currently nine apprentices and three graduate trainees. Like much of the manufacturing industry, we have an ageing workforce. In the next ten years we will see dozens of people retiring and we need young people coming through to replace them. When we recruit for skilled jobs we struggle to get enough applicants, particularly young applicants. There aren’t enough young people with the skills and attributes we want. Hence we have a very active apprenticeship and graduate trainee programme.

How did you get involved with the UTC?

The UTC movement is run by Lord Kenneth Baker and he came to Leeds in 2013 to do a presentation to employers about UTCs. As a result, a friend of mine from the manufacturing sector was asked to head up a team to bid to the government to set up a UTC in Leeds specialising in engineering. I joined the original project team to help shape that bid and then design the UTC – both the building and the curriculum. The UTC opened successfully in September 2016.

Why did you get involved with the UTC?

I got involved with the UTC because in my industry we’re facing a skills cliff with a mainly ageing, male workforce heading for retirement soon. It’s apparent to me that the UK needs many more young people coming into skilled technical trades. I saw the UTC as a fantastic way of achieving that.

How have you helped the UTC?

Initially I was responsible for helping to specify and manage the development of the building. Since the college has opened, I’m on the Board of Governors and the Trust Board. I attend open evenings to support recruitment. We also put on a project for the students here at the Agfa factory, and we take two or three UTC students on work placement each year.

What sort of project do you provide for the students?

We provide a project about conserving energy to help the environment. We use sulphuric acid in our production process and we bring it on site 90% pure, then we dilute it down to 64%. When you dilute sulphuric acid it releases a huge amount of heat. At the minute, that heat just goes into the atmosphere. We ask the UTC students to find a way to use that heat productively.

Why does it matter for students to work with employers like yourselves?

When the students come round our factory, they learn what modern manufacturing is really like. They learn some chemistry about dilution of sulphuric acid and the fact it’s exothermic, they learn some engineering about heat exchanges and heat flow, then they do a project on how to use our waste heat better. All of those students who’ve been round here are learning in real life – learning in context.

What do you think is different about the UTC?

It’s a school plus. The students get exposure to industry, they’re taught differently and the atmosphere is different. It brings like-minded student together who are interested in science and technology. We’ve found that ones who were bullied in their previous school because they were a bit ‘geeky’ thrive here because their talents are celebrated and they make friends.

Also, and importantly, the curriculum they’re taught at UTC Leeds was designed by employers – I was in the room when it was designed. It’s unashamedly focused on the skills and knowledge that industry needs.

What are you most proud of in your work with the UTC?

The thing I’m most proud of is when you look at the destination data and see what the UTC has achieved. It’s fantastic! The amount of young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) who leave school at 18 nationally is 8% and at the UTC last year it was 0% – all of our students from Year 13 went on to do something positive.

The whole purpose of UTCs is destinations. We’re focused on young people and their outcomes not just on school league tables and metrics.


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