Workforce and skills: Perfect partners

Posted on 5 Feb 2013 by The Manufacturer

Industrial Partnerships will play a major role in the skills agenda going forward, says sector skills council Semta. But what do these evolving partnerships look like today and what are their ambitions?

Building partnerships between like-minded organisations and businesses – both big and small – will help accelerate the implementation of best practice and the development and use of new technology. Crucially, partnership will also ensure the skills required among the workforce are more readily attainable.

Mark Stewart. Airbus HR director and Filton general manager.
Mark Stewart. Airbus HR director and Filton general manager.

Semta’s chief executive Sarah Sillars says: “As an employer-led organisation, we have long championed the need to bring together businesses in our sector, not to create talking shops, but to provide leadership and practical solutions to the problems we face and to take full advantage of the opportunities which arise.

“We can work together to make youngsters and their teachers more aware of the careers which exist,” she continues. “We need to explode the stereotypical images which put some off from pursuing a job in manufacturing and develop training programmes and techniques for companies and their supply chains.”

Mrs Sillars asserts that Semta is ideally positioned to offer advice and to coordinate employers so that funding can be won and their skills needs met. “The economy is forecast to return to growth this year and Semta will be at the forefront, leading the charge on skills that provide a return on investment,” she states.

Lynn Tomkins, UK Operations Director for Semta, will be speaking at The Manufacturer’s event – Driving Skills Development in the Workforce – on February 26 at the The Waldorf Hilton, London.

If you are interested in attending this event please click here to register or call 020 7401 6033.

Skills priorities

Semta’s Sector Strategy Groups looks at UK skills priorities for individual sectors and work closely on delivery through a network of employer-led regional councils. Semta also has employer groups looking at specific skills issues, such as uptake of apprenticeships. Only 18% of engineering employers currently have and/ or offer Apprenticeships. SME engagement with Higher Education is another focus.


One of the main sector priorities is aerospace. A strategic vision document – Reach for the Skies – sets out the opportunities and challenges facing the aerospace sector in the UK spanning a wide range of issues, including technology, supply chain competitiveness and manufacturing capability. For each of these challenges skills requirements are locking down major economic growth enablers.

Aerospace employs over 100,000 people in long-term jobs, paying a salary 43% higher than the UK average. So securing the sector’s current and future skills and competencies is vital.

But despite this, the industry has faced issues recruiting. Some 1,800 aerospace vacancies were left unfilled in 2012, with particular problems finding certain technical skills. These problems will only deepen due to the age profile of the sector.

It is estimated that over 8,000 people could retire in the aerospace sector over the next eight years but, on current employment trends, only 5,000 youngsters have been recruited to replace them – leaving a 3,000 shortfall.

In addition, the skills levels of existing staff are below what is required. Currently 40% of the aerospace sector workforce is qualified to N/SVQ Level 4+ with a target to get this to 50% by 2022. This is going to require a combination of employing more graduates and an increase in the numbers taking higher apprenticeships.

The scale of these challenges, coupled with the potential benefits of resolving them, brought together the Aerospace and Defence Sector Strategy group. This is jointly managed by Semta and ADS and supported by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills.

The group has produced a plan articulating the priority skills for the aerospace sector, and looking at current workforce development, future skills, images and careers.

Mark Stewart, general manager and human resources director at Airbus in the UK, chairs the group and says businesses need to take more ownership of skills.

“Aerospace is at the cutting edge of technology, but it is also vital we invest in the right people and skills to exploit and further develop this technology so we can deliver results.” he said.

“That is why we welcome the growing engagement between business and government on skills generally and in particular the opportunities presented by the Employer Ownership Pilot. We look forward to building on this throughout the year.

In 2013 the Aerospace and Defence Sector Strategy group will focus on developing and implementing practical solutions to enhance growth and competitiveness – speed and high impact will be of the essence.

There will be a concerted effort on collaborating to promote the benefits of investment in training and skills – highlighting where there is public money to complement private sector cash.

Joe Greenwell, Chairman, Ford of Britain
Joe Greenwell, Chairman, Ford of Britain

“Our industry is doing well but we recognise the need to identify priorities and, in particular, ways of inspiring the next generation of designers, engineers and scientists” – Joe Greenwell, Chairman, Ford of Britain

Supporting supply chains

Increasing the number of companies taking on apprentices – with big companies helping make sure smaller companies in the supply chain don’t miss out on high quality applicants – is a key aim.

Sharing apprentices between companies to increase the breadth of experience gained during training is another avenue being explored. This has been successfully piloted in Wales. There are also plans to develop an aerospace centre of excellence for learning, skills and employment.


A similar exercise is being carried out in the Automotive Industry. Joe Greenwell, chairman, Ford of Britain, now heads up Semta’s Automotive Sector Strategy Group, partnering with Nigel Stein who is leading the Business Environment workstream of the Automotive Council.

“Our industry is doing well but we recognise the need to identify priorities and, in particular, ways of inspiring the next generation of designers, engineers and scientists to help rebalance the UK economy and ensure long-term economic success,” says Mr Greenwell.

“There is a need for closer, more systemic connection between business, schools and higher education, especially in engineering and manufacturing,” he continues. “It is so important to ensure youngsters understand companies can help them acquire qualifications – earning as they go. We need to show them these are rewarding, well-paid careers where aspirations to go higher up an organisation can be met.”

Semta’s footprint spans across the 132,000 companies and 1.7 million-strong workforce that make up UK advanced manufacturing and engineering, including Aerospace and Defence, Automotive, Composites, Electrical, Electronics, Marine, Mechanical, and Metals.