The managing director of a Newcastle engineering firm that resurrected the business after it was dissolved and took it over has bucked the national trend set by Covid of a decline in orders — and thrown a lifeline to a Teesside apprentice who lost his job.
In 2017, Steve Robertson took over Walker-based Chieftain Fabrications, where he had spent the previous 27 years, rising through the ranks to workshop manager.
The firm covers a wide variety of engineering services from pipework fabrications to nuclear ductwork and power station parts to offshore engineering; and recently, it expanded into new premises with separate facilities for carbon steel and stainless steel, which needs a ‘pristine environment.’
The arrival of Covid looked set to reduce Chieftain’s order book and lead to furloughed staff and subsequent redundancies, but a change in working practices has led to an increase in orders for the workforce of seven.
Mr Robertson said: “Finding that specialised work that had been outsourced was becoming more expensive and that lead times were getting longer due to the unavailability of suppliers we decided to be proactive and bought the right machinery so that we could do the specialist jobs ourselves.
“It also had the benefit of keeping our staff engaged in new skills and gainfully employed throughout the lockdown period.”
The company bought a number of heavy engineering machines including a sheet metal bender that can take metal up to 12mm thick and 3.7m long, pressure-testing equipment, a number of milling machines and a second-hand lathe.
It also took on a young apprentice who had lost his job when his previous firm closed down and he faced being unable to complete his apprenticeship.
Ryan Anderson from Middlesbrough, who now makes an 80-mile round trip each day to work, said: “I am really grateful to Mr Robertson for taking me under his wing. It is a long journey to work but I’m learning so much and hope to make a career for myself in the engineering sector.”
Mr Robertson added: “I heard about Ryan’s situation from a client and called him in for an interview. The fact that he is willing to travel so far each day speaks volumes and we are glad that he is part of the Chieftain team.”