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Inside the Machine that Creates Engineers

If you're after a feel-good business story, try this - about a culture of learning in Gloucestershire and expertise in development that's helping some of the world's most advanced firms invest and grow.

From guest-writer and leading local journalist, Andrew Merrell, founder of The Raikes Journal. This article first appeared in The Raikes Journal on 9th May 2024.


When Warren Thomas first left school it was a career in the Armed Forces he was drawn to - and it was somewhere the boy from Wales could continue to indulge a love of rugby. 

He had played for Swansea Schools Rugby and went on to represent the combined forces (UK Armed Forces Rugby) before his journey in the military took him into one of those roles which really stretch your ability. 

After that came a career path on civvy street that reads like a perfectly planned strategy to delivered him to the doors of Gloucestershire Engineering Training (GET) in 2017 as operations director. 

“There was no plan,” said Thomas, who later took over from Linsey Temple as chief executive officer of the hugely respected engineering and manufacturing training centre.

GET was founded in Gloucester in 1977 by a partnership of businesses. It was the time when the prevailing opinion of UK Government was that engineering and apprenticeships were somehow unfashionable as we journeyed towards our goal of a service sector economy. 

To deal with what also amounted to a lack of investment in training and development the cluster of engineering and manufacturing firms in Gloucestershire did what engineers do – came up with a solution; they created GET.


Apprentices at Gloucestershire Engineering Training


Today its sought-after industry-focused courses range from Level 2 through to Higher National Certificates (HNC), Higher Diplomas HND) and Combined Higher National Certificates/Higher National Diplomas (HNCD). 

It serves more engineering, aerospace and manufacturing success stories, many of them world-leading companies from across the sectors, than we have room for here, but names include Renishaw, Safran Landing Systems, GE Aviation, Ontic, Majorlift Hydraulic Equipment, Trelleborg, ABB, Cotteswold Dairy, Future, Foyle, G-TEM, Improse, Invista, Mabey Bridge, LB Bentley, Mira, Moog and Poeton. We could go on.

“We are one of very few training providers with governors who are professionals from the sector we serve - engineering and manufacturing,” explained Thomas.

GET’s apprentices have been recognised nationally and internationally for their achievements, skills and expertise. In September, Michael Crilley, who works for Stonehouse-based Customade Group, will represent the UK in the electronics category in the WorldSkills in Lyon in September 2024, an event showcasing the very best in technical and vocational education and training from 65 countries.

All of the GET team, said Thomas, couldn’t be prouder.

And in order to ensure it can continue to develop staff for all those world-leading businesses, GET also focuses on developing the leadership skills of its own senior team - using another specialist county firm, QuoLux™, in an approach very much in keeping with Thomas’s belief that life-long learning is key.



You can drop any assumptions you might have made about the young man from Wales joining the armed forces because it was his only option on leaving school. He did so after achieving a string of straight A’s at O-Level (the forerunner of GCSEs).

On exit into civilian life he worked for Associated British Ports (which currently has a turnover of £600 million-plus) looking after its apprentices, gained a HND in engineering and a PGCE (Post Graduate Diploma in Education), which led to teaching at Gower College Swansea.

Despite all that experience, and GET’s success before and after he took the reins as its CEO, which suggests everything was and remains in order (Ofsted rates GET as ‘good’ and it has a 98 per cent pass rate) - Thomas felt it only natural to send himself back to school.

“Linsey had taken GET to a great, great place, and then she decided it was time to move on. We had some management restructuring, and I was asked to become CEO. 

“She had done the practical MBA with QuoLux™. I was keen to learn more about myself – to ask myself ‘what qualities have I really got for the role?’,” said Thomas, who added that those QuoLux™ programmes – like LEAD™, LEADlight, GOLD™, GAIN™ and its MBAs - have now been incorporated into the firm’s ongoing development of its senior team.


The shop floor at GET’s Gloucester base, off Corinium Avenue, Barnwood


For Thomas, sure of his abilities, but ever analysing his own performance, there was a particular part of his skillset he was keen to put under the microscope. 

“For most of my background I have been in operations. I felt I understood about empathy and emotional intelligence, but did not know enough.

“In the role of CEO you really have to be able to understand how other people think,” he said, in a statement you wonder how many managers in more allegedly ‘modern’ sectors would feel comfortable voicing. 

“I’ve actually since been told I do have those skills, but what the programme has helped me to do is achieve a better understanding and acquire the tools to continue to develop. 

“It has taught me how to have those difficult conversations, to speak honestly but constructively.

“And it has taught me one of the strongest roles you can play in management is to listen.” 

After all these years it feels like the stars are finally aligning for GET - apprenticeships are becoming more sought-after as degrees, engineering is being valued as an exciting, rich and varied career for all, and a trip to GET feels like a trip to what it is – a place at the forefront of education and training.

And the sector it serves is thriving. 

“There are a lot of businesses growing and a lot of skills growth needed, and companies know the return on investment with apprentices is massive,” said Thomas.

“Businesses in engineering have always understood the value of investing in staff – and they are continuing to do so – which is what is helping drive our own growth.”


Some of the team from GET with Julie Kent (far left) of the charity Emily’s Gift


Does he think that growth will continue through 2024?

“In the past they might have put things on hold in an election year, but we have gone through Brexit. We realise we are an island nation. We know we need to provide our own investment to create our own infrastructure. 

“And I think covid (the Covid-19 pandemic) has not only forced people to adapt, but shown them they can overcome. 

“For example, who would have thought that during covid we would take in 45 to 50 learners and run that training successfully, with social distancing, on double shifts, to make it happen?” 

To accommodate that growth, in September last year GET opened a new branch in Cinderford in the Forest of Dean, taking the training to those doorstep of those who needed it.

“We currently have about 133 Level 3 apprentices at Barnwood, 25 Level 4, take in around 50 to 60 HE (higher education/HND and HNC - Level 4 & 5) learners annually, have an estimated 190 HE learners on programme and about 18 learners in the Forest of Dean. Those numbers are increasing,” said Thomas, adding that there was significant capacity at the Forest campus. 


Warren Thomas (second from the left), at the Forest of Dean campus of GET. Gary Miller, centre manager (far right)


That very personal development Thomas put himself through also reflects a desire to make welcome, understand and best serve an increasingly diverse workforce for a sectors that expect everyone to move with the times.

“We have about 12 to 14 female learners currently. But the focus is not on them being female learners.

“It is about being open and honest. It is not just about gender, it is about race and religion as well.

“We want to encourage everyone to feel they can be the best they can be here and within their places of work,” said Thomas, adding that there was one trait they did try to encourage in everyone. 

“What they do and how well they do is not 100 per cent about ability. So much is about attitude. And we believe that if our behavior (meaning the leadership team at GET) is not correct, our learners will not be correct.” 


He added: “When I started the QuoLux™ LEAD™ programme we saw a masterclass from Pauline Clare, the first female chief constable in the UK. She talked about acquiring the ‘tools for the job’, about ‘gut instinct’, and about the importance of being a ‘visible manager’.”

And by being visible as a management team, by leading by example and displaying the right attitude, by showing that even the CEO embraces learning, he sees a powerful message.

“What I often say to apprentices is ‘I never thought I would be a CEO when I started in my job. It has been an evolution of developing myself, preparing myself’ - just in case. 

“There are so many opportunities in this sector – when they come along, you need to be ready to grab them,” said Thomas.

“What we want them to realise is this is just the start – right here. Some will want to be the best machinist they can, others get involved in design engineering, some will want to become CEOs. 

“Whatever it is they want to do, we want them to believe that if you keep developing yourself and challenging yourself, in this sector - in engineering and manufacturing - the sky is the limit.” 


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