Ron Dodd, former board director and now consultant to British Engines tells us about his apprenticeship with the company over 70 years ago…
When did you start your career?
I started working at British Engines on 2nd August 1952. I had just finished school at the age of 15 and wanted to begin my career as soon as I could. I cycled between factories to ask if anyone would take me on. Luckily, someone at British Engines gave me a chance and I worked for eight months before I could start my apprenticeship in April 1953 age 16.
Tell us about your contract
In those days you had to have the consent of a guardian to testify that you had agreed to become an apprentice and so my father also signed my contract. The apprenticeship was for five years and we worked 44 hours per week (including Saturday mornings). Any overtime on the job was compulsory and we had to take our holidays during factory shutdown.
How much were you paid?
The wage increased year by year but I started my apprenticeship on £1-7s-6d, which was around £1.28 per week. By my fifth year I was on 96/3 which was around £4.80 per week. Every week there would be two lines of employees queueing to receive their little brown envelope with their wage inside.
Every year the company gave out apprentice awards for each department, something we still do today, there were about 14 of us who received a commendation in 1956 and 1957 and we all received £3 bonus. I got an apprentice award every year of my apprenticeship including Apprentice of the Year – twice!
Did you go to college?
There was no day release to college, you learnt on the job for the whole five years. If you wanted to do any formal qualifications, you had to go to night school for further education. I went to night school from the day I started until I was 28 because I wanted to become a Chief Production Engineer and so I needed to become more qualified and increase my engineering knowledge. The final outcome was becoming qualified as a Chartered Engineer, a Member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and Member of the Institute of Engineering and Technology.
I had to do my national service when I was 21, but my job was guaranteed as national service was mandatory and was counted as continuous employment by the company.
How does the technology differ to today?
There were no computers and no CNC machines like we have now and everything was done manually. I worked on a centre lathe and was promoted to a setter when I was 18 years old. We didn’t have mentors; I think they were introduced in the 60s. You had to find your own way or you would fall behind.
What were the working conditions like?
Factories had to comply with the Factories Act which laid out conditions of Working, Health & Safety etc. so there were rules and regulations in force but not as comprehensive as they are today and were not so strictly enforced.
The factory was fairly clean and tidy better than most at the time but nothing like the standards set today.
Apprentices and all new employees are today given a health and safety induction when they join the company but in the 1950’s this did not happen. We were given overalls but not safety shoes, safety spectacles or ear defenders. You were told to be careful and do your job, if you had an accident, there was one member of staff who was a first aider or a local doctor could be called.
There was a tea trolley which came round on the shop floor at 10am every day and you were given an hour for lunch between 12pm – 1pm.
When I started my apprenticeship all those years ago, I dreamt of being the best Chief Production Engineer in the world. Little did I know I would go on to become Managing Director and a member of the British Engines Board. It just goes to show, if you put the work in, you can get a lot out of it!