The Managing Director of a Newcastle engineering firm that resurrected the business after it was dissolved and took it over as a growing concern 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.

Steve Robertson took over Walker-based Chieftain Fabrications in 2017 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. The firm has also recently expanded into new premises with facilities for segregating areas for dealing with carbon steel and stainless steel which needs a pristine environment.

Despite a proud engineering track record reaching back 150 years on Tyneside, 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 and a fully motivated workforce of seven.

“Our aim has always been to be responsible and flexible in the delivery of our services but increasing costs due to the pandemic made us think differently while still delivering on time and in accordance with health, safety, environment and quality standards,” said Steve.

Fabrication Boss is Made Up with Firm’s Progress

Chieftain discovered that specialised work that needed to be outsourced was becoming more expensive and lead times were getting longer due to the unavailability of suppliers.

“We decided to become more 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.”

Steve has bought a number of heavy engineering machines including a sheet metal bender that can take metal up to 12mm thick and 3.7 metres long. The £12,000 investment was repaid within six months and more contracts are in the pipeline due to its use. He also bought an industrial pressure testing gauge so that materials can be tested in house and a number of milling machines together with a second-hand lathe.

As well as increasing the firm’s turnover figures, being able to tackle the jobs in house that once would have been sent elsewhere has enabled Chieftain to gain more control over their workflow, provided better customer service and improved staff morale due to new working skills, etc making them multi-skilled.

“Training is really important to us, we hold a number of ISO standards and have heavily invested in quality, procedures and technical skills including working to standards laid down by UK and international welding governing bodies,” said Steve.

“We are also delighted to have helped a young apprentice who lost his job and we were able to take him on.”

Ryan Anderson from Middlesbrough makes the 80-mile round trip each day to work. Sadly, losing his apprenticeship when his previous firm closed down meant that he faced being unable to complete his third-year apprenticeship until Steve stepped in.

“I’m really grateful to Steve for taking me under his wing. It’s a long journey to work but I’m learning so much and hope to make a career for myself in the engineering sector,” said Ryan.

“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 he’s part of the Chieftain team,” said Steve.


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