Listen to Angela

Germany’s dual system of classroom and work-based learning should back up renewed interest in apprenticeships. Without this, efforts to rehabilitate the image of industry careers will not be robust says Chris Coopey, head of manufacturing at Sussex-based accountants and tax adviser Carpenter Box.

Chris Coopey, head of the manufacturing group at Carpenter Box

Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany has a proven answer to attracting talented recruits into the manufacturing and engineering sectors.  If implemented in the UK, it could help to plug the skills gap in our industry and reduce the number of unemployed 16-24 year olds.

One of the keys to Angela Merkel’s strategy is the importance placed by German secondary schools on mixing academic study with shop-floor work experience to encourage talented school leavers to enter industry, and take up other vocational careers. From my experience, I strongly believe that this dual strand to education, along with a dynamic apprenticeship system, should be a model for the UK.

Currently in the UK, apprenticeships are entered into after secondary or tertiary education and not always with a long-term career path in mind. There are now moves to strengthen the vocational qualification regime for 16-19 year olds, but sadly, any semblance of a dual approach in secondary schools in the UK was shattered in January 2012 when Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education ordered 96% of GCSE-equivalent vocational qualifications to be stripped from school league tables, following recommendations made in the Wolf report.

Since then 60% of secondary schools are reported to be either planning to cut provision of vocational qualifications or have already done so.

I believe that academic bias in Britain leads schools to focus the brightest and best to head off to University to obtain a degree in an academic subject, which is often a precursor to a career in a service industry. As a result, our engineering and manufacturing sectors continue to struggle with a lack of talented candidates at all levels – and this skills shortage undermines the UK government’s stated aim of rebalancing our economy.

Hard as it may seem, perhaps the UK needs to listen to Chancellor Merkel!