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Caithness News Bulletins November 2003

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Far North Finalists Fly the Flag

The innovative approach of Far North businesses towards skills development is once again in the running for recognition in a national awards final thanks to two thriving local companies.

Following a rigorous assessment process both Scotch Premier Meat Ltd., Dornoch and AGM Batteries Ltd, Thurso have impressed the judges so much they have been selected for the finals of the National Training Awards, which will be announced at a dinner at The Hilton, Glasgow on Thursday 13th November. The National Training Awards annually assess applications from hundreds of businesses – large and small – across the UK, seeking to identify situations where the development of skills of employees has made a major contribution to the business.

Scotch Premier At Dornoch

Scotch Premier Meat took over the slaughterhouse in Dornoch in February 2002. Their task was to skill up new staff to cope with the demands of the business, in a tight timeframe for the start of the new lamb marketing season in early summer – which meant that it was critical that the right training was in place from the start. Despite difficult trading conditions in the wake of the foot and mouth outbreak, the new SPM Highland lamb brand name was successfully launched, and within six months of the launch of the training programme the business had achieved the prestigious European Food Safety Inspection Service (EFSIS) standard.

AGM Batteries - Plant At Thurso

Meanwhile, in Thurso, AGM Batteries started in 1999 with the vision of becoming a world leader in supplying lithium-ion (li-ion) cells and batteries, used mainly by the defence industry. Starting with 6 staff and producing 20 cells a day, AGM has grown to 44 staff producing up to 3,000 cells a day! The transformation was achieved by significant investment in developing a dedicated, flexible and expert workforce, with the help of Japanese trainers from the machine manufacturers, to transfer the knowledge, overcoming the language barrier with help from the company’s Japanese partners. Their skilled workforce is the backbone of the business.

Anne Sutherland, Head of Skills Development at Caithness and Sutherland Enterprise, who played a key supporting role in their endeavours, said, "The companies learned of their success in reaching the National Training Awards Finals earlier this month and they, like us, are delighted. Only 20% of entries across the UK reach the Finals stage, the skills equivalent of the Olympic Games!"

"Both companies provide eloquent testimony of the benefits to a business when serious investment in the workforce is a core business strategy. At CASE we would encourage other businesses in any sector to consider new approaches to training and qualifying their people.”

Previous winners of the UK Supreme National Training Award from the Far North have been The Caithness Engineering Consortium in 2002 and Caithness Glass in 1997, both of which were undertaken in conjunction with CASE.