Workforce and skills: Driving forward by degrees

Posted on 4 Apr 2013 by The Manufacturer

Skills body Semta is looking to the future by prioritising not just apprenticeships but also graduate recruitment and upskilling the existing workforce. UK Operations Director Lynn Tomkins explains.

There has been heightened attention for apprenticeships this year thanks to a welcome rise in the number being recruited – that’s great.

However, graduate routes to higher level skills have just as important a role to play in the future of the UK’s Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering (AME) sector.

At the recent Driving Skills event, delivered in partnership with The Manufacturer, it was revealed that 100,000 STEM graduates will be required per year from now until 2020. Yet only 15% of SMEs in our sector recruited a graduate in 2011 compared to 19% for all sectors.

Martin Hottass, manager, skills & learning governance, Siemens Plc
Martin Hottass, Skills & Learning Governance Manager, Siemens Industry UK

Background and testimonials

ASAS is largely based on the Technical Accreditation Scheme (TAS) which was developed by Jagual Land Rover to create capacity for internal talent progression. Jo Lopes, head of technical excellence at Jaguar Land Rover explains “For Jaguar Land Rover to sustain business growth, we needed to embrace a new and innovative approach to technical skills development for all our people.

“TAS offers high impact, bite size modules on key technological and process skills and delivers a quality accredited university-led education. Over the last three years more than a third of Jaguar Land Rover’s Engineers have attended at least one module, having a transformational impact on already high skills capability within the organisation.”

Martin Hottass, manager, skills & learning governance, Siemens Plc: “Fewer and fewer young people are going to enter the world of work over the next decade. Coupled with the baby boomer generation retiring, it is essential for any employer to be able to equip employees with high level skills. ASAS provides that capability – modular training that is both high quality and accessible”

Equally, 174,000 technical managers, professionals and technicians need to be upskilled to NVQ Level 4 as a minimum.

So, as a sector, we face quite a challenge. But it is one we are rising to.

Semta worked with employers in 2012 to produce a unique, flexible, programme of Master’s level training – the Advanced Skills Accreditation Scheme (ASAS).

The programme focuses on delivering skills in specific, key technologies identified as critical for driving growth and productivity within UK AME supply chain companies.

It provides the best courses from the best sources, the first scheme of its type offering flexible access to individual Masters level modules through a network of leading universities.

Planning for the future today

This is the philosophy that underpins everything epm:technology group does.

For managing director Graham Mulholland, his partnership with skills body Semta has helped maintain a momentum towards fast growth and future development.

The Derbyshire firm started business in 1996 and now employs 73 with a turnover of £6m. But, with key capital equipment on order, a nine month project plan to get a new factory ready and 42 open vacancies, Semta’s support will be critical in sustaining the company’s success.

“We are looking to have a pre-order plan, so the skills and workers are in place to deal with contracts when they are won rather than chasing contractors to fulfil post order,” said Graham.

“For us, it is not about being the biggest but the best. I would rather turn orders away than get them wrong. We are a very labour intensive business and it is a painful process taking a lot of time to get the right people with a structured, organised way to get the right skills but Semta makes it so much easier.”

Today epm:technology produces carbon fibre components for high performance engines and Formula One Motorsport’; it designed bespoke composite solutions for Team GB at the London Olympics and Channel 5’s the gadget show as well as a number of specialist parts for the aerospace industry.

The company has taken advantage of the support offered to recruit new staff and upskill the existing workforce.

Graduate engineer James Carter was recruited through Semta’s Graduate Grant Programme, an initiative supported by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, whereby companies are offered £1,000 if they take an unemployed graduate into the AME sector for a minimum of 12 weeks. This funding can go towards the graduate’s salary or cost of training.

Graham said: “To be honest, I was a bit sceptical about the process but it has been absolutely brilliant. James travelled down from Newcastle and has fitted into the team superbly.”

With plans to be a “clever” business with a £9m turnover by the end of 2014, Graham, who set up the business as a 23-yearold having worked in an office since leaving school, is determined to match the big companies.

“In many ways we are a typical SME, but working with Semta has shown me we can stay ahead of the game with their help,” he said.

TR Fastenings employs around 400 people in the UK and more than 1,000 globally
TR Fastenings employs around 400 people in the UK and more than 1,000 globally

The modules address priority skills gaps identified by employers and, as there are no academic prerequisites, it allows individuals to study without having to register for a full Masters programme. It enables small and medium-sized enterprises to access individual modules as and when required.

ASAS is driven by employers. Programme governance is via a steering group, chaired by Jaguar Land Rover, which oversees and approves the content of additional modules to ensure the scheme meets industry standards.

“In many ways we are a typical SME, but working with Semta has shown me we can stay ahead of the game with their help”Graham Mulholland, Managing Director, epm:technology

Only 39% of the AME workforce aged 25-64 have qualifications at level 4 or above and only 6.9% of engineering staff in SMEs have level 5 qualifications compared to 17% in large companies

Addressing this skills gap would improve productivity, creating high value, sustainable jobs and supporting growth in the UK economy.

Realising these opportunities would result in an additional £9.4bn UK business in the automotive supply chain alone, where currently only 36% of automotive components are produced in the UK out of a potential 80%. Similar opportunities exist in aerospace, a market worth US$3.1 trillion to 2028.

Graduate matchmaking

Semta has also launched a Graduate Development Toolkit to give employers and potential employees easy access to information on available training options and how they can be supported.

The web-based toolkit provides employers with guidance, processes and documents for the selection, recruitment, development and retention of graduates.

It also gives useful guidance and information for students, graduates, higher education and professional institution staff on effective employer engagement.

We want to make it easier for graduates to find a job, which is why we want them to send in their CVs through Nicola Dolan, ndolan@ We will then help match them with employers, support them through interviews and hopefully into the workplace.