Workforce and skills: Own the future

Posted on 22 Aug 2012 by The Manufacturer

Lynn Tomkins, UK operations director for Semta, the sector skills council for science, engineering and manufacturing, introduces some excellent examples of employers taking ownership of skills.

Technical skills are scarce and getting more difficult to hire, presenting dangerous skills gaps for UK industry if it is to remain competitive in key disciplines.

Although government has put significant financial support behind apprenticeships, the identification of exactly what skills are needed to meet individual company and sector needs must come directly from employers, of all sizes, if training provision is to be appropriate.

L-R. Martin Rigley, Colin Larkin, Branoess Wall, Allan Cook CBE, Lynn Tompkins, Juegen Maier

To support employers in communicating their needs and influencing the kinds of training they can access in their locality, Semta has established a national network of Regional Councils and Sector Strategy Groups and is working with leading employers such as Siemens, Airbus and Jaguar Land Rover to support appropriate skills development for their supply chains.

The enthusiasm with which many companies have entered into working with Semta to shape the skills system is encouraging.

We now need to move quickly to develop more end-to-end solutions for skills delivery. Solutions need to start in schools with better understanding of career options and subject choices, go on through the recruitment and training and of apprentices and finally attend to the development of a highly motivated and continually upskilling workforce.

The advanced manufacturing and engineering sector is key to government’s growth plans and working collaboratively is the best way to overcome sector challenges and cope with the challenging environment many companies are facing today.

Juergen Maier, Siemens Industry UK. Siemens is working with Semta to extend its in-house apprenticeship scheme to supply chain parnters thereby easing the burden of training for smaller firms

Semta urges all businesses in the sector to take advantage of the opportunities Employer Ownership creates. Here are the experiences of three companies Semta has worked with to pilot the system.

Strengthen our Image

Siemens is a great supporter of our country’s ambition to rebalance its economy and make more in Great Britain.

It already makes lots here – at 13 key manufacturing sites employing 5000 people, and exporting goods like motor drives, magnets for medical MRI scanners and high efficiency gas turbines. Total GVA from these activities in the UK is £1.3bn.

Siemens also spends £5bn with UK supply chains – many of them engineering and manufacturing companies – and estimates that this supports 65,000 jobs in Britain.

Juergen Maier, a member of Semta’s board and managing director of Siemens UK Industry Sector, believes more needs to be done to drive innovation, research and development. He knows that increasing the availability of skills to support these activities is fundamental, and that this will require a change in the image of manufacturing among young people.

Mr Maier says that apprenticeships and vocational education routes need to have a higher standing in society if this image lift is to be achieved. In addition, he advocates raising the status of a professional engineer to be on the same level as a doctor or lawyer.

Improving the standing and respect of engineers will help attract more young people, a vital step to fill the 82,000 recruits Semta research shows are needed to replace retiring professionals and meet economic growth targets.

Siemens has supported the Employer Ownership pilot and, if it proves successful, it will work in collaboration with Semta to extend its apprenticeship programmes to key suppliers.

Collaboration is key

Martin Rigley is managing director of Lindhurst Engineering, employing 45 people in Nottinghamshire. He is passionate about developing the skills of his workforce and makes sure the voice of SMEs is heard by representing the sector with key stakeholders, such as the East Midlands Local Economic Partnership.

He has worked with Semta to recruit an apprentice, a graduate and put an employee through the EAL Career Advancement and Progression programme. He has seen the positive impact of collaboration whereby companies cluster to make high quality training affordable, benefitting the individual, the employer and industry as a whole.

A particular skills success story lies with Karim Mahamdi, a Lindhurst employee who was recruited nine years ago as a 16-year-old after asking Martin if he had any jobs. When asked how he’d got the number, he said “I’ve been going through all the engineering companies in the phone book – I’m now at ‘L’ and you’re the first that’s listened!”

Mr Mahamdi continues to develop professionally and recently took over project management from one of the directors. But, lacking management skills, he was put on a Semta organised SME leadership programme. It was so successful it drew the attention of other local businesses and demand now means that Semta will run the course a second time for a cluster of SMEs.

Ploughing ahead

Case New Holland is the UK’s last remaining tractor factory, based in Basildon Essex and employing 950 people, 625 of them in manufacturing.

Plant manager Colin Larkin was tasked by the factory’s owners Fiat to pursue world class manufacturing. To do this, the company needed to take ownership of its training and skills.

A meeting with Semta unlocked the door to substantial funding. As a result, the company has trained 280 employees to world-class standards through a three-year support package under the Sector Compact and saved around £1.2 million per year.

The success of the programme was instrumental in the Prime Minister and his deputy making a high profile visit to the plant.

What is more CNH has opened its doors, in conjunction with Semta, to a series of best practice events to showcase world class manufacturing in action and to help firms in its supply chain, and even those who are not, to gain a better understanding of the business as well as the tools available for them to upskill their own workforce.

The next visit, scheduled to take place on 26th September, is open to all advanced manufacturing and engineering companies.

Martin Rigley speaks to guests at the Semta Employer Ownership event at the House of Lords in July

More engagement needed

A recent Employer Ownership event at the House of Lords showed how employers are helping to shape the UK’s industrial training system – but more needs to be done to promote the opportunities Employer Ownership offers and get manufacturers, particularly SMEs, to benefit from it.

The Employer Ownership pilot offers all employers in England direct access to up to £250 million of public investment over the next two years to design and deliver their own training solutions.

The pilot is jointly overseen by UKCES, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education. Semta is at the forefront of finding innovative ways of evolving programmes to suit employers.