EAL is the UK’s leading awarding body for engineering National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and their Scottish equivalents (SVQs) and as such a key skills supplier to the manufacturing industry. In anticipation of Manufacturing Week and its accompanying manifesto, Ann Watson gives her expectations of what can be achieved through high profile events of this type, to align skills requirements with delivery and convey a message to the next government about industry’s future needs.
“ Whoever the incoming government may be after the general election, it needs to understand its responsibility to create stability and give confidence to industry. This is the first step. Without this manufacturers will not have the assurance to plan and invest in people and skills.”
All the main political parties have pledged their unwavering support for manufacturing and claim it is vital for the UK economy. Advanced manufacturing is a very important component of the UK manufacturing bases and it is widely accepted that we have skills shortages here. With this in mind, government will need to find practical ways to “encourage bank lending to SMEs… who have more trouble than large organisations finding the time and internal resource to concentrate on anything but their survival in the current financial climate,” Watson says.
She makes a further point that successful, employer-led skills provision needs to be incentivised by government with realistic financial support. “It is encouraging that both major parties have taken skills close to their hearts but I would like to see some bolder plans to mitigate the significant financial burden that companies take on with apprenticeships. Current provision only addresses training expenses but the reality is that a company can spend £50,000 to £70,000 on one placement in a year. Perhaps a tailored national insurance scheme would help address this.”
In Manufacturing Week, EAL sees an opportunity to raise the profile of apprenticeships and make clear their valuable role in the security of the manufacturing and engineering sectors. “The raising of the school leaving age and positive government targets to increase the numbers of apprenticeships available have created an expectation in young people but this needs to be supported by teachers, employers and qualifications bodies.
“There is still evidence that 24% of teachers and 45% of employers [cross sector] view apprenticeships as a poor second choice to A-levels. This is a great shame when there are fantastic role models in industry, chief executives and managing directors, who started their careers as apprentices. They need to share their stories,” says Watson.
With events like Manufacturing Week EEF, EAL and other industry bodies have faced up to their responsibility to raise awareness about the opportunities available in industry. EAL’s Watson is keen to clarify that these opportunities need to be understood in terms of ongoing professional development as well as their capacity to draw in entry level talent. “Research from Semta, the sector skills council, has shown that 70 per cent of the manufacturing workforce in 2014 are already employed, so the need for employers to nurture adult apprenticeships and encourage retraining is urgent.”
EAL acknowledges that many employers are put off tackling their responsibility to provide future skills training by the complicated skills provision landscape. There have been many calls to simplify this and the forthcoming publication this month of a big skills audit by the UK Council for Employment and Skills seeks to deliver the clearest picture yet of what hard skills manufacturing employers need. Also Cogent, the sector skills council for chemicals, pharma, nuclear, oil & gas and polymers, are set to publish a survey on March 15 that will provide the clearest overview yet of the skills needed by the new nuclear build programme.
Watson hopes the UKCES skills audit will provide useful, actionable points towards this goal. “Again it seems that both Labour and the Conservatives have taken the need for skills simplification on board and simply differ on the form that this will take. The key thing for the incoming government to appreciate is that whatever change is made it must be clearly communicated to industry so that companies understand exactly who they need to approach for help.”
Until now it seems that confused delivery and poor communications have led to divisions between manufacturers, training providers and policy drivers. The ambitious programme of Manufacturing Week aims to address this by prompting debate among the key stakeholders in the future of industry and concentrating their input into several key events nationwide and publications. As the week unfolds we will see how successful this programme is in encouraging the collaboration within manufacturing ,that is so badly needed if the sector is to communicate its needs accurately to government and overcome the challenge of negative public perception.
Catch up with this thread at The Manufacturer, EEF and BDO websites after Manufacturing Week to see how far Ann Watson feels it delivered the messages she feels will determine future industrial prosperity for the UK.
Jane Gray, The Manufacturer and Lean Management Journal