Unipart boss issues industrial skills call to arms

The boss of one of the UK’s leading manufacturers, Unipart Manufacturing Group, believes UK manufacturing needs to do more to develop its own pipeline of talent if it is to boost productivity.

Unipart Manufacturing Group’s Carol Burke is urging firms to follow its lead and find innovative new ways of addressing the nation’s long-standing skills shortage, including getting more graduate engineers coming through the ranks and looking at how they embrace apprenticeship degrees.

The managing director believes dwindling government funding and the lack of a cohesive approach means the impetus must be on business to step forward, and she feels that her own company is already benefitting hugely from a proactive approach.

Carol Burke, managing director, Unipart Manufacturing.
Carol Burke, managing director, Unipart Manufacturing.

Carol Burke explained: “We have always felt that growing our own is the only way to guarantee we get the right number and quality of staff, and we decided to take this forward with our involvement in the launch of the Institute for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering [AME] in September 2014.

“This saw us come together with Coventry University to create the UK’s first ‘Faculty on the Factory Floor’, a place where young people could study towards a degree while applying theory on live Unipart Manufacturing projects.

“The activity-led approach to learning means our students will leave industry-ready and probably one year ahead of their peers taking conventional courses. Many of those will have completed industrial placements in the UK and overseas, and our first cohort will be graduating this year.

“Some will find employment at Unipart Manufacturing, others will be offered jobs within the supply chain. It’s a win-win situation and one the sector should have embraced earlier.”

This ground-breaking approach to skills was recognised recently when Unipart Manufacturing was awarded the Education Partnership title for the West Midlands by the EEF Future Manufacturing Awards.

Judges praised the way the company had found a productive way of working with academia to develop new courses and the fact it has invested nearly £20m into making AME a reality.

They highlighted a strong commitment towards the general promotion of engineering as a career, with the business heavily involved in Imagineering, the Big Bang Fair and TeenTech, a national competition for schools designed to inspire tomorrow’s innovators.

It has also trained up a number of its staff to be STEM ambassadors, who take part in visiting local schools, career fairs and putting on experience days, something AME students are now taking an active role in.

Burke concluded: “The more people we can get interested in manufacturing is crucial, not just for Unipart but UK industry in general. We were really pleased to secure the EEF Award as it reinforces the time, effort and money we have spent in AME and our other activities.

“The focus now is on securing the national prize and ensuring we continue to push the message that industry has to step forward to bridge the skills gap.”

Unipart Manufacturing Group (UMG), which employs 800 people across three sites in the Midlands, produces exhaust systems, steel and plastic fuel systems, powertrain components for vehicles, heat exchange devices and parts for the rail industry.