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Upskilling and Innovation: The Engines of Success for the Marshall Centre

In our latest blog series on accelerating the UK’s recovery, we meet Tim Britt, Head of Strategic Services at the Marshall Centre in Cambridge, a learning and development facility born from the aerospace industry.


The Marshall Centre in Cambridge has taken off in recent years and is soaring as high as any aircraft designed and fitted by its parent company, the Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group (MADG).


On-board and enjoying the view from first-class of their career futures are the graduates from its apprenticeship and professional training schemes, who land with a diverse range of new skillsets – from mechanical engineering to mental health first-aid and stress management.


However, the onset of Covid-19 last year set fasten seatbelt signs flashing for this organisation that delivered its courses in a majority face-to-face capacity


Yet training and apprenticeships had been delivered under the Marshall name for over a century, since it evolved from a chauffeur company in 1912 after a chance emergency landing by a British military blimp outside its mechanics garage saw staff rush out to assist.


With an upskilling history as colourful as this, it would take more than a global pandemic to prevent the Marshall Centre from continuing to develop peoples’ potential.


The centre’s Head of Strategic Services, Timothy Britt, explains how the firm was only just over a year into a relaunch and rebranding plan, but an internal cultural change had equipped them for the dramatic changes ahead.


“In 2019, we relaunched and started to look at the culture within the business, and how we needed to adapt from a mindset where we’re used to just managing one internal customer to essentially having the responsibility to go out and acquire new customers, and establishing the whole customer-centric mindset that goes with that,” he says.


“So, when it came to covid in March 2020, we hadn’t really been going all that long in the grand scheme of things. What we didn’t have - and probably what worked in our favour – was a lot of the standardised processes that would have restricted companies from being able to adapt quickly.


“Although we wanted to operate with agility, focussing on growth through innovation, that agile environment and the mindset that comes with that - we hadn’t really built it.


“So, it was a real test for the business because we had to change a lot of what we were doing very quickly to accommodate our learners, and that included going from face-to-face to a virtual environment.”


Virtual learning was always on the cards, of course, but Covid “accelerated that change,” Tim explains.


“We still had very traditionally focussed lecturers and people that weren’t necessarily all that comfortable with technology,” he continues.


“So we had to go through this process of educating and bringing everybody on-board with why this was necessary, why we were focussing on this strategy, and what it meant for them.


“To throw a curve ball into the mix, we went through a merger at the same time. We brought another business from inside MADG and incorporated that into the Marshall Centre, so we had another group of people to think of and we had to find a way of getting everybody on the same page, and that was part of the strategic process – to get everybody aligned.”


“We hid nothing from them – the finances were made available, the strategy was made available. It was a case of ‘if you’ve got questions, raise them because we want to help you understand what this all means’.”


Timothy describes how their strategy ensured the doubling of revenue for the company, and the halving of the previous year’s losses, despite the spectre of Covid. Now other businesses can avail of the Marshall Centre’s knowledge of surviving and thriving.


“Covid has hit SMEs particularly hard and what we’re trying to do is work with those organisations and ‘capture future growth’. It’s about using a similar process to what we applied within the Marshall Centre to those SMEs that have struggled, and we’re helping them to bounce back.”


The new ‘Capture Future Growth’ 12-month programme is delivered in partnership with the Cranfield Executive Development team at Awards International partners Cranfield School of Management.


Discussing advice for other businesses, Tim stresses the need for innovative thinking.


“One of the main reasons we’re so passionate about innovation is the rate at which it helps accelerate growth and the robustness that it provides companies when you hit economic downturns,” he continues.


“That mindset just helped everyone think a bit differently about what they could do and how they did it. For some of the older members of our teams, for example, that involved learning to give a lecture through Microsoft Teams. Now of course, something like that - once daunting - comes second nature to them.”


He also highlights the benefits of continuously investing in your team. A notable example is how half of the Marshall Centre workforce are trained as Mental Health First Aiders, with plans for the rest of the team to follow suit by the summer.


“Build alignment from top-to-bottom within your organisation and get everybody invested in it,” Adds Tim.


“Create opportunities for everyone to get involved so you can empower them to crack on with things. If people feel they have some control over their work, they tend to be much better at their jobs.”


The Marshall Centre’s strategy of investing in people is one that can help businesses emerge on the other side of Covid with a hopeful future. After all, innovation and upskilling has been baked into the Marshall brand for over 100 years; they’re the wind under its wings and can certainly help your own company at least get off the runway.


Timothy Britt, Head of Strategic Services at Marshall Centre, and
Dr Stephanie Hussels Director of the Business Growth Programme at Cranfield Executive Development