Terry Scuoler reflects on how the future workforce is key to growth and prosperity in the sector.
If there is one message I constantly hear when I visit manufacturing companies, and one, which I constantly translate in Westminster and Whitehall, it is the need to develop a world-class workforce of the future.
I reiterate at every opportunity that economically valuable industries such as manufacturing can only grow and prosper if highly skilled and talented employees are available to recruit and train.
But I am also aware it is not just Government that has a role to play. Manufacturers themselves need to increase investment in training in order to keep up with new processes and to recruit highly skilled employees who have more than the somewhat traditional technical competences and generic skills required in the past.
To date, there has been a noticeable gap in higher-level provision combining both vocational and academic learning to the level demanded by fast-moving evolving sectors such as engineering.
The recent announcement by Prime Minister David Cameron to roll out degree apprenticeships is a welcome opportunity to fill the gap and is one which EEF very much supports.
Employers are increasingly demanding a mix of vocational and academic prowess from prospective candidates and we are beginning to see a shift away from graduate recruitment towards advanced and higher apprentices to match key skills gaps.
We now need to go further and focus on NVQ skill level 6 and above, which has traditionally been associated with Bachelor level degrees. For employers and learners alike, degree apprenticeships are a no brainer.
Students earn while they earn. They also have the security that their host employer will become their future permanent employer. Indeed three-quarters of manufacturers report that all their apprentices remain with them permanently after completing their training.
Employers also have access to relevant, responsive, quality provision. For too long, manufacturers have been left frustrated that they cannot demand the provision they need.
The reforms to apprenticeships following the publication of the Richard Review have moved us in the right direction. Standards designed and developed by employers, a stronger focus on quality and the final piece of the jigsaw – giving employers control of the funding.
In the new world of apprenticeships where employers are firmly in the driving seat, degree apprenticeships will give employers even more control and encourage greater ambition.
They will give the opportunity to co-design degree apprenticeships and, the purchasing power to buy training provision from their desired institution.
It is clear to see that this is an opportunity not to be missed and that’s why we are calling on employers in our sector to step up to the plate and take this agenda forward.
Furthermore, our final call, as the General Election fast approaches, is for the next government, of whatever colour, to recognise that initiatives that involve education institutions, employers and government such as degree apprenticeships, need long time commitment and significant investment in time to succeed.
Now that we have degree apprenticeships in place, let’s give them time to make their mark and resist temptation to tinker.