The UK has long been behind the curve when it comes to training gunsmiths.
The likes of the large gunsmithing schools on the continent; Suhl (Germany), Liege (Belgium), St Etienne (France) and Ferlach (Austria) produce 250 gunsmiths per year collectively. Is it no wonder that many of the large Gunmakers here in the UK today employ a large percentage of gunsmiths produced by these highly regarded schools, it is much cheaper than training from scratch here in the UK.
Well all that is about to change, Steve Horton from newly re-founded W Horton & Sons and a group of forward thinking businesses and individuals who are making up a trail blazer group to set apprenticeship standards for gunsmithing in the UK. This includes WW Greener, Birmingham Proof House, Viking Arms, Edgar Brothers, Pro-Gun Services, C H Smith amongst a few others.
What is the point of setting an apprentice standard?
Once the standard is written and approved by the Governments department of education it will attract government funding and various grants that will allow a Birmingham Gunsmith Academy to be formed here in Birmingham’s historic gun quarter. The academy will use the funds to employ a variety of gunsmiths who have worked in the industry for more than 30 years for some of the biggest names in the industry. These trainers will pass on the skills they have learnt to a small group of apprentices in a structured and assessed manner.
Why do we need a standard?
We have some great Gunmakers in the UK who employ and train very good gunsmiths but the tendency is to focus the training on very specific parts of the gunmaking process as that is what is required by the gunmaking firm. This creates very specialist gunsmiths, moreover very specialist in one way of performing part of a manufacturing process on a specific gun.
However, it is a sad fact that most of the guns bought in UK today are imported and have no resemblance to some of the guns produced in the UK. So whilst an ex apprentice of one of the large UK gunmakers or a handy engineer may well be able to repair a modern over and under, they won’t have been officially trained to repair it.
The training provided by the Birmingham gunsmith Academy will focus on repair, re-manufacture and refurbishment. This broad knowledge will give the apprentices more opportunity to progress a career in the industry whether that be with a UK gunmaker, setting up a business in own right or working overseas.
The department of education insist that 20% of the standard is ‘off job/knowledge’ and it is planned that apprentices will be taught related subjects such as ballistics, study of old patents, firearms law, CAD, CNC and even business studies like how to calculate VAT and submit a return.
The aim of the Academy is to create the next generation of gunsmiths although the focus will always be on quality vs quantity. Much better to create 10 exceptional young gunsmiths than 50 mediocre gunsmiths.
This has been tried before, why is this different?
A variation on this has been tried before, however it has always fell down due to lack of funding for both sides of the equation. Whilst people are generally happy to fund or donate to assist to pay the wages of an apprentice, the funding was never in place for equipment and trainers wages. In days gone by a father would pay a gunsmith to train their child, that no longer happens.
The UK Government are pushing the Apprenticeship model of learning like never before to fill the skills gaps that exist within various industries within the UK. A good case study is the classic motor industry who were lacking skills in repair and rebuilding of classic cars, for example it is impossible to find a wing for a classic 1930’s Jaguar and one has to be made by hand. The Marches Centre of Manufacuring & Technology were awarded £2.9m to set-up a facility to provide the training. You can read the case study here. The Birmingham Gunsmith Academy will be using the same training provider who helped make the Marches centre happen, In-Comm training are an Ofsted outstanding training provider.
By accessing the funding available, the Birmingham Gunsmith Academy will put in place all the equipment and trainers as you would expect from any educational facility. A separate charitable trust will be created to assist in funding apprenticeship wages and further funding sought from various other sources.
Who can get involved?
Any business involved in the Gun trade in the UK can elect to be included on the panel of Trail Blazers who help set the standard, however this is a commitment that cannot be taken lightly. Equally if you have a specialism within the trade and wish to pass the skills on, you can apply to become a trainer. Please contact Steve Horton of W Horton & Sons via www.hortonguns.com
When can I apply to be an apprentice?
We are aiming to open the Academy for Easter 2018, this allows school leavers in 2018 to be eligible and apply for a place. Numbers will be limited and are to be decided. The training will be free for 16-19 year olds who are offered a place, after 19 there will be a cost (TBD) for training like any further educational facility. If you are a young person who wants to apply for a place please contact Steve Horton of W Horton & Sons via www.hortonguns.com
You’re a keen shot and would like to help, how can I help?
Once the charitable trust is created to assist in funding the apprentices a donation however small would be welcomed. The apprentices will need guns to practice on; so that old boxlock non ejector that has sat in your cabinet gathering dust for the past ten years and isn’t worth a lot, send it in. The old sidelock that is out of proof and dangerous to shoot, send it in. Any gun that is of no use to you (either functioning or not) will be of use to an apprentice. Any assistance is greatly received.
From an acorn a mighty oak does grow.