Workforce and skills: Talent spotters

Semta’s UK operations director Lynn Tomkins describes the work being done in partnership with employers to stem the brain drain.

Securing the talent pipeline is a theme which is already dominating this year’s thinking in the advanced manufacturing and engineering (AME) sector.

The first quarter of 2013 has been extremely encouraging with widespread media coverage of the 85% increase in apprenticeship starts in the past two years.

We have also had the winners of the EEF Future Manufacturing Awards announced (p54) – young people who have made a real difference in the workplace. However, the highlight for me so far was the signing of our Apprenticeship Ambition at the House of Lords in the presence of Skills Minister Matthew Hancock MP.

In a five minute speech, a young woman did more to promote the apprenticeship route than many of us could hope to do in years.

Beth Sherbourne (p52) told an audience of employers how at the age of 22 she is now a senior procurement officer at MBDA Missile Systems, having started at the company from school. She went on to get a higher apprenticeship – a degree through learning while she earned, enabling her to buy a Mini Cooper and enjoy a holiday to South Africa – something many of her peers could only dream of.

Here was a confident, articulate young woman who has become a role model for others to follow and someone who has helped explode the stereotypical image many have of what an apprentice in an engineering or manufacturing company looks like.

In schools, colleges and universities there are many as yet undiscovered talents who we must unearth for the sake of UK plc.

Stirring ambition

Government recently announced that from next year, changes to the Specification of Apprentices Standards for England (SASE) will mean level 6 and 7 apprenticeships – equivalent to bachelors and masters degree level – will be available for the first time, making vocational learning an attractive alternative to the traditional higher education route.

A recent survey by Roevin, a recruitment firm specialising in engineering, suggested four out of five professional engineers were prepared to leave the country to work overseas – citing pay, lifestyle and valuable work experience as key factors.

And last year 31% of hi-tech manufacturing firms said they had to recruit workers from overseas due to the lack of available skills in the UK.

That is why Semta committed to work with the National Apprenticeship Service and other partners to double the number of level 3 and higher level apprenticeships by 2015/16 from our current levels.

We are ahead of target but there is much to be done if we are to achieve the Apprenticeship Ambition with our partner employers playing a key role.

Gary Griffiths is head of apprenticeship programmes for aircraft manufacturer Airbus – a company that has long recognised the importance of the duration and quality in apprenticeships.

Beth Sherbourne, senior procurement officer at MBDA Missile Systems
Beth Sherbourne, senior procurement officer at MBDA Missile Systems

“We are extremely proud of the progression routes available at Airbus. We have developed progression from a foundation apprenticeship at level 2 through level 3 and 4 apprenticeship programmes and now up to the level 6 Undergraduate Apprenticeship” says Gary.

“Someone who joins us as a craft apprentice can progress to the Higher Apprenticeship with opportunities to complete an Honours Degree, then work towards an MSc and chartered status.

“All our apprentices will be gaining practical experience of working for a major manufacturer, earning a salary while also gaining qualifications that will help take their career much further.”

MBDA Missile Systems also has a proud record of apprentices going on to achieve great things. Beth Sherbourne was named national Higher Apprentice of the Year and she is in good company.

Gareth Humphreys MBE MBDA’s HR adviser for education says: “Apprentices are the lifeblood of a company and we believe in giving them the best possible training, work experience and opportunities to progress their careers.

“Beth is a great example for others to follow. Our whole approach to apprenticeships underpins our long term strategy to secure the significant knowledge base of our manufacturing community into an ever more demanding and changing future.”

Stimulating flow

The UKCES Employer Investment Fund (EIF) was created to stimulate employer investment in skills and to improve the use of these skills in the workplace in the most effective way.

Through our employer engagement Semta has directly supported the recruitment of some 1,053 apprentices within the AME Sector – 719 of these apprentice starts are with employers who had ceased to recruit apprentices or never have previously.

We have also:

  • Supported 962 supply chain companies to produce a Skills for Growth plan
  • Through the Regional Council work and media campaigns we have supported an increase in engineering apprentice starts of up to 130% in two years.
  • Directly levered an increase of employer cash investment in skills through the new graduate & apprentice jobs totalling £1.9 million in wages, to date
  • Facilitated 169 unemployed graduates to gain employment with small to medium sized companies by offering £1,000 grants to employers
  • Worked with SMEs in the AME sector to recruit their very first STEM graduates: 21 recruited to date with a further 200 places identified
  • Provided engineering and STEM careers advice to over 7,000 students through partner events Produced eight EIF case studies to date on ‘Skills for Growth’ successes, and produced two DVDs.
  • Directly managed on behalf of NAS the eight engineering WorldSkills Competitions across the UK, which culminated with the finals taking place at the Skills Show at the NEC.
  • Showcased and managed the ‘Engineering & Manufacturing Tent’ to inspire the 20,000 students who visited the Skills Show
  • Worked with NAS to promote the £1,500 apprenticeship grant offer to new employers, which has supported massive growth in the engineering apprenticeship numbers.
  • Signposted employers to Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) to promote ‘Growth Innovation’ Working with the Trade Union, Unite and Unionlearn, Training Providers and Awarding Bodies to drive up investment in skills
  • Supported the above with £1 million investment from Semta

So the message is clear – the talent pipeline is flowing and everyone is pulling in the right direction but we all must keep up the momentum. We cannot afford to let the pipeline run dry.