Staring at a skills gap? Fill it!

Companies all over the UK are developing their own in-house training facilities to accelerate recruitment and overcome the skills gap. It’s an expense that larger entities are obviously better-placed to afford.

However, there are many other ways that companies large and small can spread the word about the great jobs in manufacturing, particularly through STEM outreach programmes. This can be made even more effective if smaller companies collaborate.

Here, Maureen Askew, senior controller at the Unipres Training Academy and Jane High, director of Bion & Company explain their companies’ approaches to training.

The in-house academy

Skills Gap - Muzakkir ‘Muz’ Hussain, a press shop production operative Level 2 apprentice, who started his employment with Unipres in September 2017. Shown here with tutor/assessor Steve Simm, a press shop specialist. The equipment they are using is a simulator for a transfer press finger jig. Muz is learning how to set the position of the fingers, an essential skill for processing panels of steel within the various production presses.
Muzakkir ‘Muz’ Hussain, a press shop production operative Level 2 apprentice, who started his employment with Unipres in September 2017. Shown here with tutor/assessor Steve Simm, a press shop specialist. The equipment they are using is a simulator for a transfer press finger jig. Muz is learning how to set the position of the fingers, an essential skill for processing panels of steel within the various production presses.

Sunderland-based Unipres is an automotive components manufacturer, producing lightweight, high-tensile strength steel parts for Nissan, Renault and Honda.

The company has been operating from the North East since 1986 and employs 1,400 people. Four years ago, Unipres carried out a succession planning and workforce plan evaluation and found that in a little under 10 years much of its highly skilled workforce would be retiring.

John Cruddace, operations director said, “We already had a skills shortage, but this was compounding the situation. The solution was to increase the number of apprentices, so now we have 85 people going through the apprenticeship programme and we’re now in the process of recruiting for the next group of apprentices who will start with us in September.”

Last year, to accelerate its training and recruitment programme, Unipres opened the doors to its new training academy, housed within Washington Business Centre. It boasts three dedicated, specially equipped workshops, and gives new apprentices and recruits the best opportunity to be trained prior to stepping foot in the factory.

“All of the machines and equipment we have at the Unipres Training Academy are exactly the same as we use in the main plant, so the transition from training to the working environment is as smooth as possible,” John said.

From my point of view as senior controller at the Unipres Training Academy, I can certainly echo John’s views. Our company has employed almost 300 apprentices since 1989.

Apprenticeship positions are now growing throughout the business, including non-manufacturing departments: HR, finance, quality and procurement are now also investing in apprenticeship positions.

The industry continues to face a skills shortage, so it is essential that businesses like ours continue to invest in training for new employees and the existing workforce.

Since its launch, the academy has already helped recruit and train more than 100 apprentices and upskill dozens of staff members through its innovative training programmes. Maureen Askew

This article first appeared in the May issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here.

Small businesses are doing their bit

Skills Gap - Jack Rae, a graduate engineer who is one of three STEM Ambassadors at Bion, attending the Primary STEM event at Leighton Park School in March 2018.
Jack Rae, a graduate engineer who is one of three STEM Ambassadors at Bion, attending the Primary STEM event at Leighton Park School in March 2018.

Bion & Company are metal and plastic perforators based in Reading, Berkshire. We employ 30 people and supply quality perforated solutions to many UK and European OEM’s.

We recognised many years ago the difficulty in attracting talent into engineering, both in terms of quality and quantity. Countless governments have introduced initiatives, but all have failed to wave a magic wand to help us recruit the people we need.

So, in 2016 we created three STEM Ambassadors and set out to engage with local schools to promote careers in engineering and manufacturing.

We continued our longstanding partnership of the Year in Industry Scheme run by EDT (Engineering Development Trust) as well as offering meaningful work experience to a minimum of four young people each year.

These opportunities are all about creating an experience as close to everyday work life as possible, and we know it pays off. Several children who did work experience with us have gone on to study engineering at university, and credit us for encouraging their progress.

We decided to aim higher by promoting engineering and manufacturing generally in our area, not just on our own behalf. To do this we looked for other SMEs who share our vision and are prepared to match our time and effort.

It’s not been easy. The network of organisations offering advice on how to do that is fractured and confusing, while many SMEs struggle to see a return on the time and effort this requires.

However, we like a challenge and after quite a lot of door slamming we have now forged relationships with an excellent local school – Leighton Park – that has a visionto be a Centre of STEM excellence and another Berkshire manufacturer, Magal Engineering, which is happy to support us.

From this we hope to build into the network locally via the excellent iSTEM+ hub that Leighton Park run. Jane High