FORGET thousands of pounds of debt and a ‘useless degree’ from a third-rate university – become an apprentice, learn a useful skill and move on to managing the firm, an award-winning Huntingdonshire businessman advises in Apprenticeship Week.

Nigel Smith, founder and chairman of Hail Weston-based Tensor plc, which designs and manufactures security and energy management equipment, has been taking on apprentices in conjunction with Huntingdonshire Regional College since shortly after he founded the company a quarter of a century ago.

He is a big fan of apprenticeships. "They are absolutely key. They teach young people things they should have been taught at home, as well as turning up on time, being a good colleague, and loyalty, as well as the skills," he told The Hunts Post. "They're much better than useless degrees."

Both Tensor's sales director and operations director started with the company as apprentices, and several other former apprentices are now working their way through the 150-strong company.

Mr Smith commends the system to other employers.

"It's not a benevolent act. It really works, as I've proved here. There's something in it for everyone.

"It bands together education and industry, it doesn't cost much to set up and, although they cost more at the beginning than they contribute, that soon turns round. And you get loyalty and people who understand your business. It's a no-brainer."

For the apprentices themselves, they earn while they learn, they acquire a valuable skill and they can take advantage of a ready-made career path.

"Apprentices here go into manufacturing, but they often move into operations and other areas of the business," Mr Smith said.

The regional college is also collaborating with Tensor on the development of high-tech testing equipment under the company's guidance that is being used not only in the UK but also in Tensor's Chinese manufacturing plant.

"These are very complex multi-layer components barely visible to the naked eye. Companies such as Toshiba and Panasonic would be proud to produce boards of this quality," Mr Smith said.

Known as a 'bed of nails', the testing board forms part of the quality assurance procedure and is used as part of the testing phase before products are shipped to customers around the world.

Keith Popely, Tensor's production engineering manager, said: "Tensor is very satisfied with the working relationship developed with the engineering department of Huntingdon Regional College. We believe that it's essential for top-class manufacturing companies like Tensor to work with young people to develop their knowledge and expertise. This is to the benefit of the students and to British industry as a whole."

As a part of the contract, Level 2 and Level 3 Engineering students from the college were also involved in assembling 10 test rig boxes, which will be used for further testing by Tensor.