Design firm commits to city roots despite global growth
When Prime Minister David Cameron embarked on a controversial four-day tour of east and south-east Asia he vowed to strengthen trade opportunities for the UK.
Leading a 40-strong delegation of business representatives in April, he emphasised Britain's strength in dealing with European and American markets.
He called the country's manufacturing industry "the pride of Britain" and boasted that the English language was the global language of business.
But behind the fanfare, industry leaders fear that too many UK businesses are taking advantage of Euro-Asia relations and relocating their companies away from the UK.
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Packaging design firm SGS International faced the dilemma of moving its Hull-based operation to Asia after winning a huge contract which effectively quadrupled its output last year.
Being part of a huge multi-national American-owned company, SGS had the choice to move production to Manila, Shanghai or even Hong Kong.
While many British businesses have been lured by the incentives of cheap labour in a growing economy, SGS made a decision to not only commit to Hull, but expand its operation creating jobs in the process.
It based its decision on the work ethic and commitment of staff who have worked hard to develop and evolve the Hull company over the past seven years.
Site director Barbara Sharp said: "Hull has always had a very strong history concerning the print industry.
"One of the biggest employers of the past century was the City Engraving Company, which employed generations of families: grandfathers, fathers, sons and uncles. Many of those skilled workers went on to form their own businesses. Sadly, many have fallen by the wayside but we have absorbed some of their staff so retain some sense of that history.
"Our staff has grown from a small team of 12 into a workforce of 130 and that's down to the commitment and work ethic of every single person involved. The level of expertise and hard work of everyone has allowed us to deliver the level of service our clients have come to expect."
The company was given a strong start when in 2005, American-based SGS International acquired Hull packaging graphics business MCG Graphics.
Following the success of its first acquisition, SGS went on to buy several other businesses across Europe and Asia, further increasing its global presence.
In 2007, SGS acquired a second Hull facility and local competitor McGurk Studios, collectively forming SGS Europe.
As the company grew, its name became synonymous with expertise, cutting-edge technology, reliability and quality.
By last November, its Priory Park facility was supplying Procter and Gamble's (P&G) Europe, Middle East and Africa requirements across its popular household brands.
SGS was named Business Partner of the Year by P&G – a title held by just 12 of its 75,000 global suppliers.
The firm then won a prestigious contract to supply goods to Shire Pharmaceuticals, a great entry into the pharmaceutical market and in line with SGS Europe's growth strategy.
It was a further larger award from P&G that led to the employment of 60 new staff.
The contract also saw the firm outgrow its city base and in March this year it took up residence at The Maltings in the city centre.
The four-storey building, formerly Hull Brewery, has lain dormant since 1985 when brewing ceased at the Victorian listed site. It was completely redeveloped by Hessle firm Allenby Commercial, with Red Frog Design, of Hull, providing the commercial interior design.
The premises were opened by Hull's then Lord Mayor Colin Inglis, who applauded the firm's commitment to Hull.
He said: "SGS choosing Hull as a base shows confidence in the city as a place to live, work and do business. The company will join a number of other businesses based here that trade internationally, raising Hull's profile and helping with its regeneration."
Not only has SGS pledged loyalty to existing staff, it is keen to develop young careers. Proud of Hull's printing heritage, Barbara Sharp has introduced an aspect of employment that has its historic roots in industry.
In a day and age when old-style apprenticeships are all but dead, she has introduced a new apprenticeship scheme in partnership with Hull Training.
The company has already recruited six new apprentices and will be looking for a further five school-leavers this summer.
Barbara said: "We initially had our most experienced employees training youngsters because there were no courses available in Hull."
"We wanted to introduce a real training course, so approached Chris Kerwin at Hull Training. The organisation already had a modern apprenticeship scheme, offering youngsters the basics of how to behave at work, to turn up on time, etc. The youngsters then went into the workplace for four days and were at college for the fifth day.
"However, we suggested Hull Training took our apprentices for three or four months and we delivered the materials they needed and advised the content and models, which included trips to museums to explore the history of print.
"The SGS Graphic Arts Apprenticeship course has proved a huge success. Chris says he has never seen such committed and enthusiastic apprentices.
"It's not about cheap labour. We genuinely want to bring people on and, as our current employees already know, we are keen to develop skills and allow people to progress and move within the business."
SGS is also targeting graduates in its efforts to find five apprentices in management. Adverts have already gone up in the University of Hull giving students the opportunity to apply.
Barbara said: "These people could be the future of SGS. It's an excellent opportunity."
As well as employing young people, the company is keen to recruit staff who were previously in printing and are keen to re-enter the field.
Mother-of-two Barbara knows all too well the opportunities management with a global company can offer.
She has travelled as far as Korea, Hong Kong, China, Brazil, North America and Australia in her business dealings.
She said: "I have to admit that my 16-year-old daughter has been jealous when I have texted her from Sydney Harbour or New York."
Barbara entered the print business 25 years ago and has seen the transition from film to digital.
She said: "The transition has been incredible and I've been privileged to see it. Gone are the days of heavy, manual work in a male-dominated environment. Pre-press and printing is now about technology.
"We are renowned for being technically advanced in colour management. It used to be that you showed a client a colour proof and the printing reproduction would look nothing like it but now it's matched perfectly.
As well as dealing with global companies such as Shire and Procter and Gamble, SGS is keen to trade with local companies, both small and major.
Barbara said: "We are global but we are also local and it would be fantastic to deal with local firms. We are very competitive and our business awards are testament to that.
"We have the technological edge over other companies and better, faster, more cost-effective is our mantra."
If you are interested in joining the growing workforce of SGS, e-mail recruitment at: email@example.com