The Engineering Trust

Q&A with Sarah Jaycock of High Spec. Composites

For this week’s blog I sat down (virtually) with Sarah Jaycock, Executive Director at High Spec Composites to find out a little more about her business, the apprentices she employs and her role in the wider Oxfordshire apprenticeship community. She is a true advocate for championing opportunities for young people, sitting as a Committee Member for the Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards and taking on the role of an Enterprise Advisor for The Bicester School.

Hi Sarah, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions!

Can you give me the brief history of High Spec. Composites and what you do? 
High Spec Composites is a leading manufacturer of aluminium tooling and high-specification carbon fibre components, supplying to a range of industries worldwide, specialising in Formula One and bespoke projects. The company was established in June 2010 when my husband, Matt, and I took on the challenge of turning fifteen years’ experience and a joint desire to progress into an operational business. 
Over the course of just under ten years, we have combined our skills and passions to grow High Spec into an award-winning team of over twenty Laminators, Trimmers, Inspectors, and Administration Staff working from 10,000sq ft of well-equipped factory and office units situated in Motorsport Valley.  

Have you got a specific moment or project that you consider a high point so far for the business?  
One of my favourite projects to date has to be our collaboration with Carbon Black System, designing and manufacturing a full carbon fibre wheelchair. The chair was incredibly lightweight, bespoke to each user and designed in a modular system with quick-release functionality allowing users to transfer from the chair into vehicles and so forth without any assistance.  
The Carbon Black project was the first opportunity we had to really demonstrate our ability in transferring skills and knowledge across sectors. We were able to use the many techniques learned and perfected through working in technologically advanced sectors such as Formula 1 and apply them successfully to an innovative and bespoke project. The chair was celebrated for changing the lives of people with spinal injuries.  
Another high point would have to be our success at the Cherwell Business Awards in 2016, winning Apprenticeship of the Year. Winning the award not only recognised our commitment to apprenticeships within a relatively new and small business, but also opened numerous doors and introduced us to a much wider network of inspirational people and local businesses. Since winning the award our apprenticeship programme has gone from strength to strength, as has our company. Winning the award, against our own expectations, has inspired us to enter and win several awards since including Small Business of the Year at the Cherwell Business Awards 2018 and Young Business Person of the Year at the Oxfordshire Business Awards 2019. 
Once we move past the current Covid-19 situation and you can get back to full operation, does the business have any specific ambitions about where it wants to be in 5 years’ time?  
Our main ambitions moving forwards are to be recognised and utilised as a ‘one-stop’ solution for composites projects and to offer further training provisions for people of all ages, levels and abilities wanting a career in Engineering and Motorsport.  
We have already set the wheels in motion to become a one-stop solution, investing in a new CNC department and specialist 3D scanning technology. Our highly skilled technicians, whom have expert insight into manufacturing processes, can now help to design and manufacture optimal tooling for projects, eliminating many possible manufacturing issues before they arise and ensuring the most suitable surface finishes for each project. Our technicians are also able to use 3D scanning technology to provide comprehensive inspection reports to customers through each stage of production, reducing lead times, removing the need for external verification and once again eliminating a high percentage of potential manufacturing concerns.    
We have also started to evolve our training provisions by offering apprenticeships to applicants of all ages and education backgrounds and by creating a new ‘re-train’ programme which is designed to take previous work experience of older candidates into consideration and make a career change later in life a viable and exciting option.  
Though both aspirations are very much in progress, we hope to see them succeed in the way the rest of our business has by the end of 5 years. 
How do apprentices fit into your business? 
Apprentices have played an integral role within our business ever since the doors opened. Matt and I come from opposing career pathways and have each learned the limitations of only having experience or certification to offer when actively seeking employment. We made it a personal goal to ensure any member of staff joining the High Spec team could gain both experience and qualifications during their time with us, improving the overall standards of work, providing confidence in ability to new and existing customers and also improving future career prospects for individuals.  
We aim to provide a diverse experience within our apprenticeship programme by offering rotations throughout the business and ensuring each apprentice has a comprehensive insight into all departments thus giving both them and us confidence in their pathways moving forwards. We have found this to be a successful way of matching skills and interests to job roles which can really help with success rates, team building and staff retention. 
We also apply learning to an in-house skills matrix, comprising of over 160 key industry skills and increase pay accordingly. This has proven to be an encouraging and ethical way of rewarding progression. 
We have a 100% success rate with completion of apprenticeships and the more ambitious of those have progressed into high-achieving roles such as management within our business and exciting roles within Formula One teams. We offer all apprentices a full-time position at the end of their learning. 
Can you summarise the benefits of having apprentices on-board?   
Taking on apprentices within in a small business is not only a cost-effective way of expanding and growing the workforce, it also offers a unique opportunity to train a person to company procedures and standards from an early point in their career as well as to the specific job that you wish for them to fulfil. 
It’s refreshing to have a younger and newer perspective within the business and rewarding to provide skills which will help future proof both your business and sector. The right apprentice can become an integral part of any team, bringing with them diversity, open-mindedness and often a great deal of ambition.  
I do not believe our business would be where it is today without the strategic inclusion of apprenticeships.  
Can you tell me more about what your involvement is with the Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards?  
The Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards were established in 2017 to recognise and celebrate star apprentices and their many achievements across the county whilst showcasing the benefits of apprenticeships to both prospective students and local employers.  
Having won Apprenticeship of the Year at the Cherwell Business Awards a few months prior and having built a great working relationship with the OxLEP Skills Team I was invited to join the OAA committee representing SMEs.  
I have remained a part of the committee ever since and help each year to organise and further improve the event. High Spec Composites have also sponsored a category each year and are proud to be Headline Sponsor for 2020. 
Why are the awards important? 
The awards are incredibly important as they demonstrate the wide array of apprenticeships available locally; the many levels to which a person can train in an apprenticeship; and they celebrate the incredible work being carried out by star apprentices across the county. They also give a platform to local training providers whilst celebrating their successful candidates and placements.  
Recognising individual apprentices for their outstanding achievements offers far more than reward for each finalist and winner, it also shows employers just how rewarding it can be having the right apprentice on board. I’ve been surprised over the years by just how many career destinations can be met through an apprenticeship pathway and also by the innovative and valuable contributions local apprentices have made to their respective employers.  
Can you tell me more about your role as an Enterprise Advisor? 
I joined The Bicester School as their Enterprise advisor in June 2019. My role is to support the school at a strategic level, identifying gaps in the careers provision and working closely with Careers Leads and OxLEP to develop a plan for the future. 
I use my position within the business community to help connect the school with further local enterprises and help to organise events where students can have meaningful employer engagements prior to making subject and/or career choices. These events often give local businesses, of all sizes, an opportunity to connect with the future workforce at a pivotal time in their education and open young people’s eyes and minds to the many careers which could await them.   
Some of the more recent and effective events which I have helped to organise include The Bicester School’s first Human Library event in which Year 8 students were visited by several local employers, entrepreneurs and inspirational speakers from a number of backgrounds and career paths. Students moved around the school hall in a carousel fashion, getting to spend time with each of the visitors. They were able to find out about their job roles, key employability skills and had the opportunity to ask any questions. Another would be a mock interview event for slightly older students where a selection of experienced local employers, myself included, sat down with students individually and helped to prepare them for future interviews providing honest and constructive feedback.  
Have you got anything to say about your neighbours? (We are based in the office building next door to High Spec Composites). 
The Engineering Trust have made employing apprentices simple and successful. They provide a fantastic service, pre-interviewing candidates to ensure they are at a suitable academic level for individual vacancies and a good fit for the company. 
We had only planned to recruit one or two apprentices in 2019, but after interviewing the selection of high-calibre candidates put forward by the Engineering Trust, ended up employing three!  
We’ve been very happy with the ongoing support offered to our apprentices throughout their learning and the great lines of communication with our management team.  
It’s also incredibly handy to have them just next door! I’d have no hesitation in recommending The Engineering Trust. 
Any final words of advice for businesses who are thinking of taking on an apprentice? 
An apprentice can be a real asset to any business, of any size, in any sector. It’s important to connect with the right education provider and ensure any staff responsible for work-based learning are willing and committed to sharing their experience with the next generation. 
As mentioned above, we’ve seen so many benefits, not just in our own business, but in many, many businesses across the county; I would encourage anyone considering taking on an apprentice to take the plunge.  
Thanks again Sarah, that’s a brilliant insight into your business and the other aspects you are involved in. 
Written by Mark, Chief Executive