Former Dagenham Ford apprentice’s route to top

As he takes to the helm of a new manufacturing research institute, a former Dagenham Ford apprentice has spoken of his unexpected route to the top and how he hopes to inspire others.

This week Les Lee steps into the role of research director of the High Speed Sustainable Manufacturing Institute, at the CEME centre in Marsh Way, Dagenham.

The facility, set up in partnership with Ford, will work with businesses, researchers and PhD students to develop new and innovative ways to improve manufacturing techniques.

Les, who grew up in Aveley in Essex, joined the Ford plant in Dagenham as an electrical apprentice in 1976, when he was 17.

“I’m from a working class family. My parents were from Dagenham and my father worked on the production line at Ford,” he said. “His aspiration for me was ‘get a trade’, so that’s what I did.”

Like his fellow apprentices, Les took an Ordinary National Certificate (ONC) at Havering College.

It was to be the first step on a journey of training and education that would span almost 30 years, and take in a degree and a PhD - all completed while still working for Ford.

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“I left school with O-Levels and not for a minute did I think I would be going to university,” he said. “In those days few people from my background did.

“But I always had a passion for knowing how things worked. It’s never been enough for me just to fix something, I want to know more.

“What’s wrong with it? Why did it go wrong? So I kept going back to college to learn more and was lucky enough to be able to keep working for Ford, who were always very supportive.”


Father-of-two Les hopes his story will encourage others, whatever their background, to aim high.

“There are opportunities out there for everyone – it doesn’t matter where you come from,” he said. “I’m living proof of that.”

Asked why he decided to leave Ford after so many years, the 52-year-old explained: “I could have stayed there until I retired, but I felt that this job was such a fantastic opportunity to inspire and support many engineers of the future.”