“Schools are very good at the S&M part of STEM… it’s T&E where there’s a real problem”

Nick Peters sits down with Ian Green, Senior Controller of the Nissan Skills Foundation, to talk about his own apprenticeship, his move into training and his engagement with tens of thousands of schoolchildren ever since.

The need for a steady stream of fresh young talent into manufacturing has never been more acute, so National Apprenticeship Week this year was marked with some sense of purpose.

Yet manufacturers remain critical of the existing system and complain of schools being difficult to engage with and colleges doing a poor job of teaching apprenticeships. Some manufacturers simply make their own rules.

Nick Peters spoke to Ian Green of Nissan, an Exemplar in The Manufacturer Top 100 2018.

The National Apprenticeship Levy is a bold attempt to recruit three million apprentices by 2020; but it has not worked, and needs an urgent overhaul. Indeed, the whole process is in reverse as companies find it difficult to implement.

The Manufacturer’s Annual Manufacturing Report 2019 says more than half of those polled regard the levy simply as a tax, even as 71% of them say apprenticeships are coming into their own as a genuine alternative to university.

Across the country, there are pockets of real progress that demonstrate how much can be done towards helping young people into manufacturing careers. Nissan established a Skills Foundation in 2012 to address a looming skills gap in the company and in its supply chain. The man chosen to run it was Ian Green, who had been with the company since 1991.

A former engineering apprentice, Ian became a trainer after a serious road accident meant he had to give up his job on the shop floor. Since then, Ian Green has made the Foundation a model of its kind.

Ian Green celebrating National Apprenticeship Day at the House of Lords with (L-R) Eden McGlen from Unipres, and Rachel Whitworth, Charlotte Parks and Emma Coulson from Nissan.

Ian Green celebrating National Apprenticeship Day at the House of Lords with (L-R) Eden McGlen from Unipres, and Rachel Whitworth, Charlotte Parks and Emma Coulson from Nissan


Ian Green: The offshore industry was basically stealing a lot of our technicians, offering them big money to go and work offshore. So we thought we needed to get more apprentices for Nissan, and for the supply base too. It was important for us that we got the supply base to not just ‘steal’ our staff, but to develop their own.

What we found was not enough kids were thinking about apprenticeships. I was asked in 2012 to basically say, ‘What could we do to better engage with schools?’

I was looking for 16 to 24-year olds, thinking about apprenticeships or people who do degrees – but by that age it’s too late to try and capture them. I needed to go back to school options year, which is year 9, but even then, if a young person doesn’t like STEM, then that’s too late. So, from literally the day we started, we went back to primary year 6.

I’d come back from a business trip in Mexico, where I’d seen a Nissan programme developed in Japan where they were taking kids off the street, feeding them, giving them a T-shirt, and saying, “Look. You don’t want to go into the gangs. This is an opportunity. Nissan can do this for you.”

I went to Japan a month later to have a look at it, rewrote it, came back and went into a primary school where I used to be a governor and said to the head teacher, “I want you to have year 6 kids, nine-year olds, using panel beating hammers and impact wrenches, can we do that?” And she went, “Yes, we had them bricklaying last week, so that’s fine.”

The Manufacturer Podcast Speakers Headphones - stock image courtesy of DepositphotosThis article first appeared in the April issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here

This interview was extracted from a conversation Ian Green had with Nick Peters on The Manufacturer Podcast, available on all major podcast platforms.

Now, that’s an enlightened primary school teacher!

It was brilliant. From day one of launching the skills programmes, we’ve had a firm eye on making sure that what we do is give schools what they need, as well as hopefully giving us what we need at the end – young people who think that Nissan is a good employer. Or not just Nissan, maybe the manufacturing automotive sector is ‘a place I’d like to work.’

Manufacturing as a whole is in some crisis, with older, experienced workers, nearing retirement, and not enough young people coming up behind them. You can’t surely expect to fill that gap now, because it’s already too late, is it not?

When we first started the programme, we had 160 kids. This year, it’ll be 12,000. So it’s become huge. I only take 150 into our schemes, so there’s 11,000+ who have been influenced by us. Now, a lot of those are very young, so 5,000 of those kids are at primary school, but we’re hopefully creating this big groundswell of young people who think manufacturing and engineering are the way forward.

You’re right, we are almost fighting against the tide, but we have to do something, we can’t just leave it to the schools and the government to do that.

I suppose a lot of the digital technologies that are being introduced, particularly in automotive, mean that some jobs held by the retiring cohort won’t need to be replaced. These are new types of jobs, and young people are almost perfect for recruitment into the new digital manufacturing sector.

That is very true. I’ve had a career in manufacturing for 35 years. The things I do now, and the technology used, people hadn’t even dreamed of when I started. I remember in 1987 the first Amstrad computers appearing on the shop floor. The careers that a lot of these young people will have don’t exist yet. Jobs are changing.

We’ve gone from 300 robots to 1,000 in the past 10 years, but nobody’s lost their job, they just do different jobs.

When it comes to STEM subjects, many schools are good at science and maths, but there’s a real problem with technology and engineering. Nissan ambassadors work to change that.

When it comes to STEM subjects, many schools are good at science and maths, but there’s a real problem with technology and engineering. Nissan ambassadors work to change that.


Talking about the school curriculum, I know you’ve got concerns about the fact that the EBAC (English Baccalaureate), which is what a lot of schools are now moving to, doesn’t actually give a proper full grounding in STEM subjects.

No. If you look at the EBAC curriculum, 70% of kids are meant to be doing EBAC. It’s basically the 1904 curriculum without drawing! There’s been a 68% drop in the past decade in children taking digital technology exams, a huge drop. That’s why I think manufacturers need to push the schools to say, “Look, it is worth you engaging with industry, and you don’t have to do EBAC.”

One of the highest performing schools in the North East doesn’t follow it at all, and they do an awful lot with us because they want to have that engagement with big manufacturing companies. They know that we can give young people opportunities that they wouldn’t have within the schools.

So, there are some schools that see the future of a really proper relationship with the manufacturing sector, but equally I know you’re concerned that a lot of schools just put their toe in the water and pull it out again. What’s going on, what’s the problem?

All schools have got a statutory duty for careers guidance, and they’re meant to have ‘meaningful engagement’ with employers. Unfortunately, a lot of them see that simply as, ‘Please come to a careers fair.’

Now, I will go to a careers fair, but actually I would rather they come on a set programme that we run, where we will work with them and spend quality time with young people. Rather than just walking past, picking up a free pen and maybe a pamphlet, we’ll spend three or four hours with them.

Since we started the Skills Foundation in 2012, we’ve just passed the 43,000th young person, and none of those numbers include any careers fairs.

Schools have lots of pressures, and I understand that. I had 66 schools involved in a STEM competition. I gave them all the equipment for free and we taught them how to use it. By the time we launched the competition and actually did it, we we’re down to 45 schools. So even when you’re giving them £1,000-worth of equipment, we couldn’t get all the schools engaged.

And you think that’s just a combination of too much pressure, and perhaps not enough understanding?

I will see the same teachers again and again, on different programmes that we’re running because they’ve seen the value in what we’re doing. But the school systems are having issues because design and technology (D&T) teacher recruitment numbers have dropped right off. And there’s the difficulty that they need equipment, which needs to be funded. It’s much more expensive to do a D&T programme for a school than to run a French class.

What you find is schools are very good at the ‘S&M’ part of STEM – science and maths – because that’s what they’ve always done. However, it’s the ‘T&E’ part of STEM – technology and engineering – where there’s a real problem.

Image 2 - When it comes to STEM subjects, many schools are good at science and maths, but there’s a real problem with technology and engineering. Nissan ambassadors work to change that.

It’s almost like manufacturing is fighting this battle with one arm tied behind its back, because the system is almost going backwards.

I think we have to be almost like zealots in some respects, banging the gong all the time to say, “This is not right.” We do need to make sure that we’re giving young people the skills they need for the 21st century. Moving forward, we will always have this need for the technology and engineering sector, so we need to make sure that we’re getting more young people to think about it.

And of course, one way in which we could very definitely improve the whole thing is to get more young women into the system.

Not enough females apply. Half the population are female, but we’re not seeing anywhere near that. If you ask the year 6 cohort, 45% of the girls would think about a career in manufacturing engineering. By year nine, you’re down to 70%-30%, by year eleven, which is when they’re leaving school, that’s when it’s 95%- 5%. There’s absolutely no reason why girls can’t do these things.

At the moment, the boys are getting careers guidance, or parental guidance down the way, girls aren’t. So, we’re trying to work against that to get the girls fired up and thinking, “There’s no reason why I can’t do this.”