Skills and training: We’re in a mess. How do we get out of it?

Posted on 3 Sep 2019 by Jonny Williamson

Skills training in England* is in crisis, from apprenticeships through to adult learning. At every level, quality and quantity are deteriorating and the chances of pulling out of the nosedive we’re in are bleak.

(* Skills and training are fully devolved, so everything in this and subsequent articles in the series refers to England only)

Recruitment skills and training employee engagement - image courtesy of Depositphotos.Skilled recruits are the lifeblood of any business, none more so than manufacturing. Some recruits are hired because of what they have learned, many – if not most – because they have the capacity to learn and to put it into action.

And yet the flow of talent coming out of schools is slowing. As we shall see in this series of reports, literacy and numeracy levels at Level 2 (GCSE) are barely adequate.

The Apprenticeship Levy is not working and, to cap it all, mid-career workplace training is slowing down.

By failing to invest wholeheartedly in training, some manufacturers are unwittingly conspiring with government to dumb down the workforce of today and of the future.

I’d have more patience with this issue if there was some hope on the horizon, but again, as we shall make clear, so much of what is wrong is so fundamental that it could take the best part of a generation to fix it.

Do we have a generation available to us? No.

This is part of a series of articles about the skills crisis facing the UK manufacturing sector.

The series examines some of the serious problems affecting skills and training – and some of the positive initiatives aimed at producing a manufacturing workforce fit for the future. 


Problems include the centralisation of power in Whitehall, which is a function of the way we do politics in this country, and a certain English laissez-faire attitude among some in business who think their problems are someone else’s to fix.

Then there is the atomisation of influence, whereby campaigners for change and improvement splinter into dozens or hundreds of diminished voices that would make so much more noise if combined as one.

STEM education - image courtesy of Depositphotos.

How many STEM campaign groups are there in this country? Search online and you’ll find out. I lost count.

How many engineering associations do we have in the UK? Thirty-five. How many does Germany have? One. (Get used to comparisons with Germany when discussing this issue. None of them favour the UK.)

There is also the hangover of de-industrialisation which means the general public has a distorted view of manufacturing and its desirability as a place to work.

In fact, that attitude spreads through to technical education being regarded as second class and second rate. We may agree that often it can be second rate, for reasons we will spell out, but second class it most certainly is not.

We love to encourage the good, but we have a responsibility to highlight the bad, too. Only when the bad is addressed will the good make all the difference it deserves.

This series of articles is distilled from the September issue of The Manufacturer. There are print and digital options (the digital version is FREE to manufacturers!) 

Why not subscribe? Click here for details 

*All unattributed images courtesy of Depositphotos