Sound Leisure is a Leeds-based manufacturer mostly known for building classic juke boxes – one of only two traditional jukebox manufacturers in the world and the only company in the world to produce a vinyl-playing jukebox. The company has supported UTC Leeds since it was first proposed and has developed a strong partnership with the hi-tech 14-19 school. Support comes right from the top with the involvement of Managing Director, Chris Black. We caught up with Chris at the launch of a week-long festival of science and technology at the UTC, which Sound Leisure helped to sponsor.

What does Sound Leisure do?

We build juke boxes from scratch and recreate the sound and feel of the classic machines of the 1940s and ‘50s. Alongside that, we operate juke boxes in pubs and we also supply commercial indoor children’s play equipment. In addition we have a pattern making and a vacuum forming division within the factory, but we’re mainly known for classic jukeboxes which we export all over the world.

Why did you get involved with UTC Leeds?

When it was first suggested that the UTC was going to open, we were immediately interested. Like every other manufacturer we are short of R&D engineers and skilled technicians. We wanted to get involved with the UTC from the outset and it’s been a really enjoyable experience.

What do you do with the UTC?

Initially it started out by inviting students into the factory to see what a modern-day factory looks like and to see what goes into building a juke box, namely metal-working, wood-working, vac forming, electronics and creative design. After that, we got involved in setting projects around the flat panel loud speaker technologies that we use, and now some of the students are coming through in the summer holidays and working with us.

Some of the feedback I’ve had from my engineers has already been amazing. From the last group they had through, they couldn’t believe they were only 16 years old, so when I told them they were only 14 that really blew them away!

How does involvement with the UTC benefit your business?

There are several benefits. Firstly, we are getting to meet some of the next generation of local engineers and that is fantastic for our team, who can also find out what’s currently being taught. Plus we have access to the facilities at the UTC. If we have a project and we don’t have the necessary equipment in house but the UTC does, we can send it to the UTC for the students to work on and they turn something out for us. It’s a great two-way partnership.

Have there been any unexpected benefits?

Yes, we have gained a lot of exposure by association with the UTC. The reputation of our business around Leeds has grown – wherever I go now, more people seem to know us. That’s been a great spin-off for us. We’ve met organisations and people that I am sure we would never have met before.

How do you think a partnership like yours benefits the students?

I think it’s fundamental to their success. Rather than just reading about something in a book or online, the students can sit down with someone who is doing the job every day and see what is going on in the real world. I think this exposure to the world of work is the great thing about the UTC. For example, the hours that the UTC operates – the students come in early on a morning and leave at 5.00pm, just like a normal working day. They get to use and understand the machinery that they are going to use when then go into the real world of work.

As an employer, you can train new recruits, but what you can’t do is develop a work ethic that isn’t there in the first place. What we’re starting to see here at the UTC is that the students have a passion for what they’re doing and are getting on with the job. Beyond that, if they can come to us with the additional skills that we don’t have to teach them, it’s a win-win for everybody – I am convinced that they will stand out above everyone else of a similar age group in the job market.

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