Are young entrepreneurs the key to Huddersfield and Kirklees’ future prosperity?

Kirklees College, where around 1,200 staff work with 20,000 students

Kirklees College, where around 1,200 staff work with 20,000 students - Credit: Archant

No one can deny that Huddersfield Town Football Club chairman Dean Hoyle knows a thing or two about making money. But for him, being a successful entrepreneur is not just about earning, it’s about learning too.

Students in the Engineering Centre take a well-earned break

Students in the Engineering Centre take a well-earned break - Credit: Archant

He’s just signed up as an alumni champion at Kirklees College, encouraging young people to consider career-orientated training and businesses to give students vital real-life experience.

‘Dean really champions what we do here,’ said Jason Taylor, the college’s commercial manager. ‘He understands that business engagement is massive if we want to support current industry leaders and encourage the next generation.’

The college plays an active role in the region’s business community, hosting events at its £75 million waterfront campus as a partner in Huddersfield Town Enterprise Academy, bringing companies together to keep deals, and the money they generate, within the Kirklees area.

Building strong links with business also means the college has a ready supply of apprenticeship partners.

‘It’s very much a two-way street,’ said Jason. ‘Companies can offer our students great on-the-job learning opportunities, but we can also plug businesses in to a ready supply of keen, talented young people who can help move projects forward.

‘Businesses have to play their part. If they work with us from day one they’ll have the pick of the best students with the best attitude. And it gives students the vital opportunity to earn and learn simultaneously.’

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You couldn’t get a much better advert for the value of apprenticeships than Dean Hoyle, a self-made millionaire who started out as an engineering apprentice at what was then Dewsbury and Batley Technical and Arts College in 1984.

‘I left school with no qualifications and started as an engineer’s labourer on a Youth Training Scheme,’ he explained. ‘My employer spotted potential and put me forward for an apprenticeship at the college. I soon realised that if a started to apply myself I could achieve more and, in 1986, I was presented with the apprentice of the year award.

‘It was at this moment that I understood how hard work and determination can pay off, and it was a turning point in my life.’

Dean worked in engineering until he was 24, when he decided to take the plunge and go self-employed.

‘College gave me the confidence to go solo,’ he said. ‘I knew that setting up my own business could be a risk, but my engineering qualification and experience gave me a fallback option if things didn’t work out.’

Needless to say, things worked out pretty well. After selling greetings cards from his van, Dean opened the first of many Card Factory stores in 1997, selling the business 13 years later for an undisclosed figure (let’s just say ‘lots’).

As a Kirklees College alumnus, he will give guest lectures to inspire students and champion further education, particularly qualifications that go hand in hand with a trade. So what advice would he give the youngest of young entrepreneurs – those about to leave school and contemplating the future?

‘Everyone in life has an opportunity,’ he said, ‘the difference is some take it and some don’t. College can offer you that opportunity to get a trade, get an education and have a bit of drive. You can achieve anything.’

Twenty-one year old Megan Lunn from Meltham is a strong case in point. In a room full of engineering apprentices, she stands out. Her classroom at Kirklees College is a vivid illustration of an issue highlighted in Tomorrow’s Engineers, a government report that said the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe.

Megan is one of those helping boost that number. The former Honley High School student is committed to a career in engineering and believes that, for her, an apprenticeship is the right way into the industry.

She spends one day a week in college and the rest of her time with her employer, Huddersfield’s Reliance Precision.

‘The best thing about an apprenticeship is that you learn skills in a real engineering company where products are made for customers around the world and not just for training purposes,’ she explained. ‘It gives you real-life experience that you could never get in the classroom.’

Kirklees College currently trains more than 1,500 apprentices across a wide spectrum of sectors. Former apprentice Chris Elliott is one of many inspiring success stories spurring on the current cohort as he now co-owns and is group chief operating officer of global manufacturer VTL Group in Huddersfield.

His company began an apprenticeship programme in 2006 and currently employs 12 earner-learners.

‘It’s critical to the manufacturing sector to be able to develop skill sets for the future and that’s what apprentices bring,’ he said. ‘You’re not necessarily going to get an instant return but those months and years spent tailoring them to understand your organisation means they can hit the floor running when the time’s right.’

Kirklees College, which was formed in August 2008 when Dewsbury College and Huddersfield Technical College merged, is now backing young entrepreneurs as well as apprentices in a bid to keep the local economy buoyant for generations to come.

It has just launched its new Peter Jones Enterprise Academy, offering full-time BTEC courses in enterprise and entrepreneurship specifically aimed at firing up young people’s business ambitions.

College head of business Nikki Davis said: ‘We already have many local businesses interested in mentoring students in order to develop their enterprise and business skills to a level that will help them flourish as entrepreneurs.’

And why wouldn’t they? After all, the young entrepreneurs of today could well become the successful business leaders of tomorrow, bringing more prosperity to an area already feeling the benefits of an economic upturn.

‘There is a very positive feeling in Huddersfield and Kirklees at the moment,’ said Jason Taylor. ‘I engage with local businesses all the time and I can honestly say they are feeling more buoyant day by day.’