Skills resolution

Posted on 5 Jan 2011 by The Manufacturer

Sector Skills Council, Semta calls for 2011 to be the year of the training plan for manufacturers.

As business returns to normal after the festive break Semta, the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies, is calling for employers to ensure that New Year resolutions include budgeting for new levels of responsibility for industry skills development.

In November 2010 The Manufacturer magazine’s lead story commented on the rising responsibility of individuals and employers in skills investments as government funding is cut. However, this will mean a significant change in mindset as Semta research shows that only a third of companies in its target sectors started last year with a training plan or budget for skills. It seems that while some exemplary companies, such as TMs People and Skills award winner, Gripple, have realised the business benefit of nurturing workforce skills many are still convinced that this represents an unnecessary spend in austere economic times.

In the short term Semta are encouraging companies to take advantage of the remaining time available make use of the services available through the Sector Compact under the terms of which Semta will provide free diagnostic advice and map business needs. The top three areas where help is usually required in manufacturing companies are finance, skills and technology. One capability gaps are identified Semta will help organisations locate any funding to support improvement.

However, the Sector Compact is due to terminate in March and from that time Semta hopes that its established evidence base of training plans and business benefits from the approximately 6000 companies it has so far engaged with will give manufacturers confidence in the business sense of investing in skills.

Philip Whiteman, Chief Executive of Semta has commented: “As England’s cricket team testifies: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. It is essential for companies to map out how they will develop the skills of their people to achieve their business objectives. We are calling upon the 130,000 employers we represent to make skills investment their New Year resolution as the route to success for their business, their sector, and ultimately the UK economy.

“Investment in training needs to provide a bottom line return. We are working hard at SEMTA to develop a range of metrics to help track these returns on skills investments. Some types of skills are easier to this for than others. For instance, our most popular qualification is the Business Improvement Techniques or lean manufacturing qualification. Since part of this training involves measuring quality, cost and delivery rates before and after the training it is easy to analyse what money is saved on the cost base as a result. Skills like leadership and management are more difficult because it is about improving consistency of culture and values in an organisation. There are soft metrics that can be used however, such as tracking workforce morale and absentee rates.”

As funding for skills diminishes Whiteman says employers should anticipate that remaining government funds will be concentrated in apprenticeships and, set against the backdrop of rising university fees and an ageing workforce, Semta expects that apprenticeships will have a greater role than ever before in ensuring businesses have the right skills to grow.

In addition the perception of apprenticeships as an entry level qualification or first career step will need to change as government has committed to funding 75,000 adult apprenticeships – good news for manufacturing where 30-40% of employees in the UK are aged 45 plus. Given this high age demographic and the possibility that these older employees will remain active within manufacturing businesses for longer than might have been expected when the abolition of the Default Retirement Age comes into effect in April, it is imperative that employers pay greater attention to strategic workforce planning and lifelong learning approaches.

Semta anticipates that it will have an active role in 2011 in helping more manufacturers understand apprenticeship provision frameworks and assist companies in developing apprenticeship delivery capabilities. Only 15% of engineering employers currently offering apprenticeships and so if the benefits of the limited government funding available are to be attributed to the sectors and businesses in most need of development a support infrastructure will be much needed. Semta has already run programmes which stimulated apprenticeship growth, for example, where smaller employers share apprentice workplace development or where larger companies do the initial training of more apprentices than they need to help smaller companies in their supply chain.

Semta are targeting SMEs with their improvement and training offerings and has developed over 3000 training plans with individuals companies on the back of needs identified in their business plans. However, as Whiteman confided in TM, since an astonishing number of smaller manufacturers still have no formal business plan in place, the baseline for improvement and identification of skills gaps in some cases is a significant challenge.