Laura takes new role in her stride

A former college student has taken a new admin role with South West Durham Training in her stride less than two months in.

Pony-riding Laura Pickering, from Barnard Castle, joined the Newton Aycliffe training provider on an 18-month level 3 apprenticeship in business administration in March after leaving a college course she wasn’t enjoying.

And the 17-year-old former Staindrop School student has saddled straight into her new office job.

“I wasn’t enjoying my college course, I prefer to be hands-on and doing practical work rather than being sat in a classroom all day, so I saw this as a good opportunity for me,” said Laura.

“I’m still learning the important academic skills necessary for the role, but I’m also getting to know the ropes of the office, doing general admin jobs, data cleaning, printing, filing and dealing with people on the phone, and I’m loving it.”

South West Durham Training (SWDT) is well-known for producing its own apprentices for other companies, mainly in engineering and advanced manufacturing, and celebrated its 50th anniversary at the end of 2017.

But general manager Jason Howe says it makes a refreshing change to be taking on their own apprentice.

He said: “Laura interviewed fantastically well, she came across as very mature and very knowledgeable.

“Since she’s joined us, Laura has been working with our centre supervisor Vicky Chapman, who’s giving her a lot of support, guidance and direction.

“In less than two months she’s already working with minimal supervision and taking on tasks alone, using her own initiative.

“All the staff get on great with her, and she’s been a great asset to the organisation already.”

Meanwhile, small businesses across County Durham are to receive free training to help address skills gaps as part of a £6m Government initiative.

The two-year programme aims to future proof supply chain companies by providing consultancy support to identify key needs including strategic planning and upskilling, then delivering mentoring and flexible training.

The £345,000 project follows a successful bid by a consortium led by Bishop Auckland College, and its Aycliffe-based subsidiary South West Durham Training (SWDT) to the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) Catalyst fund.

The college was one of 34 universities and colleges to secure funding, receiving £200,000 from HEFCE.

Match funding came from the college and its subsidiary South West Durham Training, and bid partners County Durham Engineering and Manufacturing Network, South Durham Enterprise Agency and Aycliffe Business Park Community.

The units will be at Level 3, 4 and 5 and include leadership and management, business improvement techniques, engineering and manufacturing engineering.

Experienced managers and technical specialists from large companies will help college staff deliver training sessions, mentoring and support to the participating SMEs, transferring knowledge and building expertise throughout supply chains.

• The free training is open to SMEs in all sectors. To find out more contact senior business advisor Julie Cook at or on (01388) 825837.

A subsidiary of Bishop Auckland College which employs 27 staff, SWDT works with many of the region’s big employers including Hitachi Rail, Cummins in Darlington, Richmond-based Pipeline Engineering, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Barnard Castle and car parts maker Nifco in Stockton, and currently has more than 300 learners on its books.

• Find out more about SWDT at or call 01325 313194.