Skills and the Red Tape Challenge

Posted on 1 Aug 2011 by The Manufacturer

Need some starting points for your submissions to the Red Tape Challenge? Ann Watson, Managing Director of awarding body EAL suggests what her recommendations for slashing and burning unnecessary skills regulation would be.

The Government has turned the attention of its Red Tape Challenge to the manufacturing sector. From the 21/07 – 04/08, it is asking firms to submit their views on 140 policies which manufacturers deal with on a daily basis – a welcome initiative!

There is no doubt, manufacturing will play a huge part in securing the future of our economy. The Government makes no bones of the fact that we need to manufacture our way out of recession and I completely agree with Mark Prisk when he says manufacturers should ‘be making things not filling out forms’. Firms in this sector need tangible support which helps them cut cumbersome red tape so they can achieve long term growth. For me, training and skill development – an area which has all too often been hindered by red tape – are at the heart of the industry and crucial to its ongoing success.

If manufacturers are looking to comment but unsure of where to start, I would suggest the following, provide a good basis for movement on regulatory reform of the skills landscape:

1.National Insurance exemption for a firm’s first 10 apprentices
We run the risk of a shortage in the number of skilled workers as smaller firms struggle to carry the costs of taking on apprentices. SMEs are the backbone of our manufacturing industry, but need financial incentives to be able to invest in training. The Government would do well, for example, to offer an NI exemption for the first 10 apprentices

2.Skilled industries require more than a ‘one size fits all’ apprentice framework
The Government’s recent move to introduce a standard apprentice framework across all sectors could be damaging to skilled industries. A standardised approach to delivering apprenticeships may seem less bureaucratic, but will ultimately leave skilled apprenticeships in sectors such as manufacturing with less time to learn vital skills which until now has been part of the course. Engineering and manufacturing are flagship sectors and their bespoke training needs must be recognised.

3.Promote apprenticeships as equal to degrees
The Government recently launched the Apprentice Card – a valuable step towards achieving parity between academic and vocational education. While this is a definite step in the right direction, to radically alter the perception of skills education the Government must continue to keep vocational education firmly on the Department for Education’s agenda to ensure that schools deliver clear, unbiased advice. The message to students needs to be that opportunities exist in both sectors.

4.Barriers to Work Experience
The raft of current health and safety regulation is a major stumbling block to introducing young people to the manufacturing sector. Schools need to fill in so many risk assessment forms before their students can visit a factory, or undertake work experience that it’s easier just not to do it. But, without this on-site experience of manufacturing, we’re going to fail to generate interest in an exciting sector which needs new blood to take it forward now and in the future.

5.Educate the educators
We hope the National Careers Service being launched next year will help provide unbiased careers advice in schools; currently schools have little understanding of, or contact with, the vocational sector which is having a negative impact on young people entering industries such as manufacturing.

Teachers need to include parents when advising students on the available options at 14 and post 16, and must look broader than an academic qualification. By radically re-educating across the generations, we stand a chance of successfully altering the perception of vocational education in this country.

6. Learn from success
While the Government’s Memorandum of Understanding with China is a step in the right direction at knowledge-sharing with manufacturing superpowers, more needs to be done from an earlier stage. Countries such as Germany, which have a strong manufacturing sector, are hailed as economic success stories, but they can only achieve this because of their high apprenticeship figures. The German model is the envy of most of the Western world but this success is not an accident. The German school system is geared to delivering students with a mix of skills, and young people are actively encouraged to pursue the vocational route from an earlier age. The UK could do well to learn from this model.

Ann Watson’s comments come towards the end of the spotlight period for manufacturing problems within the Red Tape Challenge. Yet despite many manufacturers complaining of the barriers to growth caused by bureaucracy, a pitiful number of contributions on sector specific regulations have been made by manufacturing businesses.

EEF are campaigning hard to gain more engagement on this issue and alongside The Manufacturer magazine are calling for manufacturers to seize this rare opportunity to have a direct voice in policy reformation.

The spotlight period for manufacturing regulation is due to close on August 4. However, contributions can still be made up until August 18. Comments on more general regulation, such as environmental and workforce regulation are open for comment on an ongoing basis.

Click here to submit your views and take a stand in the Red Tape Challenge!