Report urges “demand-led education” to plug skills gap

Posted on 16 Sep 2014 by Victoria Fitzgerald

The manufacturing sector is calling on Government to move towards "demand-led education" to help the sector bridge the current skills gap.

Businesses contributing to a Manifesto for Manufacturing report compiled by the Manufacturing Group at MHA, the national association of independent accountants, say secondary and tertiary education needs to be re-focused away from “abstract academic targets” towards skills needed by employers.

The recommendations in the report, which will be sent to politicians of every political persuasion ahead of the 2015 election, are designed to put the case for increasing the support given to the manufacturing and engineering sector by whichever party forms the next government.

The most radical proposal contained in the report is to adopt a system termed “demand-led education”. Chris Coopey, who leads MHA’s Manufacturing Group said of the proposal: “The UK has made some significant steps in re-establishing manufacturing as a mainstream economic activity, but unless our schools, colleges and universities start to produce young people in large numbers with the skills and motivation to become engineers and technicians, our ability to compete in the global market will be severely limited.

“Demand-led education is an obvious way to help achieve this. Instead of targeting our schools to achieve abstract academic targets we should as a nation, look at what we need by way of a future workforce and challenge our schools to meet that need.

“In simple terms it’s about educating our young people in the skills which employers want now, and in the future.”

Many manufacturers feel strongly about this issue. Beverley Ford, managing director of Wiltshire-based Rota Val Limited said: “With the skills shortage in engineering and manufacturing, SMEs struggle to recruit and find they have to pay more to entice people into their business; after all we are targeting the same small pool of skills as large corporates who can afford to pay more.

“We do acknowledge that as manufacturers we could do more to help the education of our younger people.

“However, it already costs employers just to take on staff through employers NICs, and now with auto enrolment and the need to cover pension administration fees this cost is increasing, even before we have paid a penny to the employee.

“If we are to take a more active role in education, any new Government must look at ways to help reduce these costs.

“On a positive note, the new UTCs (University Technical Colleges) for 14 – 18 year olds that are opening around the country, are a step in the right direction as colleges and local businesses work together.

“Currently, for the employer, this is on a voluntary basis which may restrict the number that become involved and may ultimately restrict the effectiveness of these educational establishments. Again, help from the Government for local employers is needed.”

The report also recommends changes to the tax system to encourage investment and innovation as well as a more consistent delivery of government support across the UK to encourage things such as exports and re-shoring of production into the UK.