With vocational training very much at the heart of the Government's employment agenda, qualification awarding bodies such as NCFE are expecting to play an even more important role. Christopher Knox caught up with David Grailey, chief executive of the Newcastle organisation to talk about his unorthodox route into the industry.
ONE of the oldest qualification awarding bodies, Newcastle-based NCFE employs 115 staff at its St James’s Boulevard offices, and has more than 250,000 learners registered to take its qualifications each year.
The organisation’s qualifications and awards are designed to give people a mix of skills, knowledge and understanding to help them fulfil their potential and realise their ambitions.
A number of its qualifications are also designed to re-engage youngsters between 14 and 18 who have not taken to the traditional GSCE model of learning, with some of the certificates covering areas such as pod-casting and even DJ skills.
The organisation is currently working with employers to see how it can work alongside the Government’s training agenda, which is very much work-based, with a particular emphasis on the recruitment of apprentices.
However, it is a challenge that Grailey is looking forward to, having helped to transform the shape and remit of an awarding body for the food industry as part of a former role.
And it is the food industry where much of the 43-year-old’s experience comes from. Brought up in Derbyshire, Grailey’s parents ran a shop in the town of Borrowash, which saw him getting his hands bloody at an early age.
He says: “My grandfather was a second-generation butcher and I was brought up around the family business from a very early age.
“I was part of a very close-knit Catholic family and we all used to go around to my grandfather’s house on Sunday after Mass for a catch up.
“I always had a work ethic. On Tuesday we used to buy livestock from a local market as we had our own abattoir behind the shop.
“When I was really young I used to deliver meat to the old dears in the village, but as I got older I became a general labourer.
“The work came very naturally to me. The only thing, as with most family businesses when you’re that age, I was expected to work twice as hard for twice as less.”
It was then that Grailey first got involved with vocational training after leaving school with few qualifications to his name.
He recalls: “Apart from the YTS I completed, I was allowed to go to Derby College once a week to sit a course in butchery and food technology.
“While I was there I was lucky to come across a lecturer called Chris Manning who was a local butcher himself, and who had got himself up to a Level 4 NVQ, which was equivalent to the first couple of years of a degree.
“He was quite inspirational and made my learning fun and interesting. As I had a bent towards biology and science, it fitted in quite well.
“It covered a wide range of areas, from the production and bio-science side of meat production, to distributing produce to the retailers.”
Realising that he now wanted to build on his training in the meat trade, Grailey enrolled on a Level 4 HND at Blackpool and the Fylde College, where he also became a qualified food inspector.
“I got a buzz out of achieving my earlier qualifications and didn’t really want a job where I was expected to work six days a week, and then do the books on the Sunday,” says Grailey.
“Don’t get me wrong, you can made a fantastic living being a butcher and it is a great trade skill to have. It was just that I wanted to do something that was a bit more mentally stimulating .
“It meant leaving a lot of my friends behind but it was definitely the right move as it opened up a number of career options to me.
“Blackpool was a great place to study. The college had a fantastic reputation, although I don’t remember much of the first term as the clubs were pretty much left for the students outside of the holiday season.”
After getting a job as a demonstrator for Bristol company AMC, Grailey moved back to Derbyshire to work at an American diner, where he was employed as a sous-chef, a role which saw him largely cook burgers and fries.
He says: “I came back to Derbyshire to consider my options and began working at the Road Island Diner.
“I didn’t have any catering training to speak of, but then again the menu wasn’t the most sophisticated in the world and I only had to operate one grill. However, it was still enjoyable.”
It was in 1988 that Grailey got his big break in the vocational qualification sector, with a job as lecturer at the Derby-based Meat Training Initiative, which had provided some of the training he undertook at Derby College.
It was here that the germ of his future career developed and he began to discover a deep sense of job satisfaction in helping youngsters better themselves and drag themselves out of the sometimes difficult circumstances they had found themselves in.
He says: “I guess I was quite young to be advising others on what to do with their lives, but I felt that I could identify with them and help them to find a direction for their career.
“That sense of giving something back is ingrained in me now and is very much a driving force for what I want to do in my own career.
“Although I was proud of the degree that I achieved a couple of years later, I was even prouder to have been able to help those youngsters at the Meat Training Initiative. I know it sounds a bit trite, but it’s nonetheless true.”