The Lost Generation?

Posted on 14 Jun 2021 by Tom Lane

The pandemic has caused a multitude of problems for manufacturing businesses and their employees the world over. Deputy editor, Tom Lane, explored how the landscape looks for the next generation of people entering the manufacturing sector.

One of the more overlooked aspects of the pandemic has been the next generation of young engineers coming through and, with the changes in working conditions, many young people have had to put their career aspirations on hold.

This seemed to be a general theme that emerged from National Apprenticeship Week (NAW), which took place from 8–14 February this year. Young people and companies are both concerned about the effect the pandemic will have on the future workforce.

Research commissioned by BAE Systems to mark NAW found that more than 40% of young people aged 16-24 surveyed in the UK say they are putting their career or education plans on hold until the pandemic is over. The impact could be that we end up with a ‘lost generation’ of talent, just when UK manufacturers need young blood entering the workforce.

This statistic is replicated in research conducted by training provider In-Comm who has three academies in the Black Country and Shropshire. Its recent Training Barometer uncovered that 64% of companies they surveyed had failed to invest in new apprentices over the last 12 months.

The survey, which also came out to mark NAW, revealed a worrying picture of cuts to training budgets (51%) and more than half of firms (53%) shelving future plans to take on young workers as they adapt to the challenges presented by the virus.

Gareth Jones, MD of In-Comm Training, said: “Initially this year companies were holding back on recruitment, but more recently we’ve started to find a significant number of firms approaching us to find apprentices for them. We need to maximise and build on this appetite for vocational learning and find solutions to some of the short-term issues we are collectively facing. Missing out on a generation of talent is simply not an option, especially as these skills will be needed to drive the bounce back.”

Government support

For the manufacturing sector to move forward there are obvious calls for government support to attract new talent into the sector. With the announcement of the Skills for Jobs White Paper back in January, the Department for Education said it wanted to “put an end to the illusion that a degree is the only route to success and a good job and that further and technical education is the second-class option”.

The white paper will aim to reform post-16 technical education and training to support people to develop the skills needed to get good jobs and improve national productivity. The plans aim to give more power to the employers to get the skills they need to grow their businesses and keep pace with technological changes.

Employers will play a central role in designing almost all technical courses in England by 2030 ensuring that the education and training given to students is linked to the skills needed for business. A £65m fund has been established to build new colleges and business centres, with the aim of meeting local training needs.

Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, said: “These reforms are at the heart of our plans to build back better, ensuring all technical education and training is based on what employers want and need, while providing individuals with the training they need to get a well-paid and secure job.”

This was followed up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announcing in the recent Budget that there would be incentive payments for employers who hire a new apprentice. The incentive payment is in addition to the £1,000 employers already receive – employers will receive £3,000 for new employees of any age who start their apprenticeship from 1 April 2021 to 30 September 2021.

This payment is different to apprenticeship levy funds so you can spend it on anything to support your organisation’s costs and you do not have to pay it back, for example, on uniforms, apprentice’s travel or their salary.

Gareth said: “Any support to get people into work and their chosen career path is gratefully received and we welcome the apprenticeship bonus doubling to £3k. However, I can’t see it encouraging new companies to take on apprentices, instead it will just increase payments to those already planning to recruit. The disengaged will remain exactly that… disengaged. We would have preferred a more focused funding plan to target organisations that have not employed an apprentice in the last 12 months or financial assistance to firms taking on a new employee aligned to a qualification, not necessarily just an apprenticeship.”

Gareth Jones, Managing Director of In-Comm Training

“The vocational route is highly sought-after by industry, with many employers reporting advanced competency levels and skills from employees who have been gaining knowledge from day one” Gareth Jones Managing Director, In-Comm Training


Not all doom and gloom

There are still plenty of positives to be taken as there seems to have been a general shift in attitudes towards vocational training; 63% of young people surveyed by BAE Systems said they have, or would consider an apprenticeship, of which 41% cited gaining experience in the working world as a key driver.

Richard Hamer, Education and Skills Director at BAE Systems, said: “It’s clear that currently the path for young people looking to enter the jobs market is extremely tough. The ramifications of COVID-19 are far reaching and have left students with greater uncertainty about their future. That’s why it is important that those of us who can must continue to create new opportunities for young people, working hand in hand with the Government and wider industry, to make available options known to young people.”

2 Manufacturers back apprenticeship investment despite pandemic - HK Technologies / In-Comm

He continued: “Apprenticeships play a significant role, providing people with the necessary skills to work in highly specialised and technical industries. Through on-the-job learning of practical skills, the opportunity to work alongside industry professionals and the provision of support at every step of their training, apprenticeships can offer entry into a long-term and successful career.”

BAE Systems recently announced it will recruit more than 850 apprentices and 400 graduates in 2021, the highest intake in a single year.

Gareth went on to add: “There has definitely been a significant shift in not only awareness of apprenticeships, but also in the positive perception of them as a viable route to a great career. We now have in place seamless progression routes into higher education and to gain a degree, meaning you can get the same qualifications as going to university using the apprenticeship model and funding. Better still you’ll also have years of first-hand experience of applying the theory into live manufacturing roles.”

Moving forward

It seems the right noises are being made by government without being backed up by the correct action to tackle the problems in front of us right now. For UK manufacturing to thrive an influx of new talent is needed to fill that gap and take the industry forward.

Gareth concluded: “All the talk has been on challenges – first it was Brexit, now we are in the midst of finding our way through COVID-19. Needing to be self-sufficient during the pandemic has taught us the importance of making things on our own shores and this presents new opportunities for UK manufacturing. There is without doubt renewed appetite from companies looking to reshore, to bring production – previously completed in low-cost countries – back home to reduce supply chain complexity and risk.

“In order to support this, we need to make sure we have both the future and immediate skills in place and this requires joined[1]up thinking between industry, academia and private training providers. We have to deliver courses and apprenticeships that keep pace with technological advancements, automation and the race towards electrification and sustainability. It’s a big challenge, but one we can meet by closer collaboration and more strategic thinking when it comes to skills and training.”

This is a story that is far from over and we will watch with keen interest how this plays out. For the UK to lose a generation of talent would be a travesty, but we see hope in the way we have adapted and pressed forward during the pandemic. A new sense of appreciation seems to be growing for vocational training across the country, which can only serve to encourage more young people into careers in the sector.

Pictures supplied by In-comm.

Nominations are now being taken for the TMMX Awards 2021, including Young Manufacturer of the Year