The manufacturing sector is a critical part of the UK economy but the shortage of engineering skills is a serious threat to its future growth, according to a new report from industry alliance Engineering The Future. This is the latest in a string of publications to raise the alarm over this issue and it notes that manufacturing companies have embraced apprenticeships as a means of addressing their skill needs.
Engineering The Future speaks on behalf of 450,000 UK engineers and virtually all of them agree that the shortage of skilled workers is a key problem for the sector. Members have repeatedly raised concerns about the quality and quantity of engineering graduates and skilled technicians. These concerns have prompted them to call on the government and academic institutions for improvement on both counts.
The report, titled “An Insight into Modern Manufacturing,” points out that problems in the education system have led many manufacturing companies to embrace apprenticeships. Organisations have maintained investment in vocational training programmes even when economic conditions have squeezed their financial resources. This commitment is attributed to the fact that apprenticeships have allowed manufacturing enterprises to produce high-quality workers and ensure their future talent supply.
Engineering The Future also notes that sector operators typically rely on themselves but this can sometimes have negative consequences: such strong self-reliance prevents the government from identifying areas where it can provide support. The report also highlights the fact that the manufacturing industry requires long-term planning so any state intervention or investment needs to be undertaken with the long view in mind.
Apprenticeships have garnered much attention in the past few years, becoming a focal point for the government in its efforts to combat youth unemployment and promote skills development. But while employers and training providers are spreading the message through their professional organisations, apprentices have so far lacked their own platform for support and representation. This has changed with the launch of the National Society of Apprentices (NSA).
The newly created organisation has already attracted as members over 100 employers, training providers and colleges in addition to more than 100,000 apprentices.
Siobhan Knott, member of the NSA interim leadership team, said that the national society constituted a major step towards raising the profile of apprentices and ensuring they get the respect they deserve. Through the Apprentice Exchange group and forum, young Britons in vocational training can make new acquaintances, swap ideas and make their voices heard. The NSA provides the sense of community apprentices across the country have lacked so far, Knott added.
As Not Going To Uni reports, the NSA came into existence in February. It was created with the aim of supporting apprentices, giving their views national representation and promoting apprentice rights. The society also intends to shine a light on apprentices’ contribution to their communities.
The NSA has been around for only a short time but it has already championed several important initiatives. In Northern Ireland it helped apprentices get together with decision-makers and discuss their future vision for apprenticeships. In Wales it supported the launch of a research project dealing with trainee travel costs. In addition, the NSA organised a trip to Finland for apprentices from Leeds and Doncaster, providing them with opportunity to see how the Nordic country’s apprenticeship system works.
For all the attention apprenticeships have been enjoying in recent years, many people continue to regard them as something less academically inclined youngsters turn to. According to Suzie Webb, director of education at the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), this misconception should be addressed by all stakeholders, most notably the government, training providers and educational institutions. Young Britons need to be given a clear message that there are many reasons to consider an apprenticeship and academic aptitude has nothing to do with it, Webb writes in an article for the Huffington Post.
From a financial point of view, career goals pursued through an apprenticeship will not saddle youngsters with massive debts. Vocational training is becoming all the more attractive as university tuition fees go up. But this is only one benefit of choosing an apprenticeship over academic study. As apprenticeship advocates never tire of stressing, apprentices have the amazing opportunity to gain hands-on work experience, not to mention that they get paid a salary in the process.
It has become clear that a university degree rarely prepares young people for handling the realities of everyday work. With apprenticeships, learners accumulate invaluable first-hand knowledge of their chosen industry, which in turn helps them build confidence and set their professional sights higher, Webb says. Another great thing is that apprenticeships have been embraced by virtually all industries and the variety of roles on offer is impressive. Young people can train for less demanding positions and gradually build on that or opt for a more challenging role. It also needs to be stressed that apprentices are highly valued by employers for their practical skills and most trainees become permanent members of staff at the company that recruited them, Webb adds.
Apprenticeships are essential for combating youth unemployment and helping the UK build a strong talent base for the future. The government has initiated a series of reforms to improve the apprenticeship system but priority is being given to solving quality issues and raising standards in sectors with acute skill shortages, for example aerospace, automotive and life sciences. This is definitely a positive development but since the UK economy is predominantly service-based, more attention should be given to improvements in service industries.
This is one of the key recommendations made in a new report from The Work Foundation. In an article for the HR Director website, author Katy Jones outlined the major issues addressed in the policy paper. It welcomes the launch of the Trailblazer pilots as a way to give employers the lead in apprenticeship programme development but also calls for the inclusion of more service industries amongst the Trailblazers. Skill shortages may not be as acute in health and social care, business administration and customer service but these are sectors providing the largest number of employment and apprenticeship opportunities to young Britons.
As Jones pointed out, the service sector is the one typically fighting the hardest battle with issues related to apprenticeship quality, educational content and duration. This presents a significant problem because the UK economy is driven by services: the sector provides 85% of UK jobs and is the first destination for most young people entering the labour market. Moreover, the service sector creates the largest number of apprenticeship positions: eight of the top ten industries by apprentice recruitment in 2011/2012 were service industries, with business administration and customer service among them. It is therefore very important to raise apprenticeship standards in the sector, Jones noted.
The UK government is betting on a string of reforms to improve the apprenticeship system. But according to Lord Adonis, who served as education minister between 2005 and 2008, the UK needs a “revolution” in apprenticeships, which should include a specific focus on youth apprenticeships and bring about a significant increase both in apprenticeship quality and quantity, the Huffington Post reported.
Lord Adonis made these remarks during a skills debate taking part within the annual conference of the British Chambers of Commerce. Addressing his audience, the former Labour government minister described the number of apprenticeships that are available only for up to 12 months as “unacceptable”. He went on to declare that the system clearly needs a fundamental overhaul, especially in the area of youth apprenticeships. It is not enough to make incremental improvements in quality and quantity: a step change is required, he insisted.
According to Lord Adonis, the government should work alongside schools and employers to address an issue of particular importance, namely the quality of career advice received by students. It definitely leaves a lot to be desired and teachers are generally unable to provide proper guidance on apprenticeships and vocational training. That issue will not be resolved without prompt action and Lord Adonis advocates the introduction of “senior” people whose main responsibility will be maintaining contact with local employers and helping young people secure apprentice positions. UK schools should have people with a keen understanding of the local employment landscape and employers, encouraging the latter to create more apprenticeship opportunities for local youngsters and providing advice to young people, Lord Adonis said.
Many companies in the Thames Valley region find it hard to recruit young people with the right skills. It is therefore hardly surprising that they consider apprenticeships very important for building their talent base, stating that vocational training beats university when it comes to preparing young people for working life.
This has been established through the first Skills, Education and Recruitment Survey in the region. Led by hiring specialist Hays, the poll involved about 100 local enterprises.
The results showed that 58% of employers were primarily driven to recruit in order to grow their business. But finding people with the right skills proves a challenge for 61% of Thames Valley companies. According to 68% of the sample, apprenticeships do a better job than universities at getting young people ready for work life.
Local employers rank attitude as the top criterion for candidate suitability. For 73% of companies, attitude trumps qualifications and experience in the choice of new staff.
Commenting on the survey results, Hays Specialist Recruitment managing director Mark Sheldon said that more and more employers were looking for people with a learning aptitude. Companies are increasingly prioritising a candidate’s ability to learn new skills over their current expertise and experience. Now that the economy has returned to growth, more employment opportunities will be springing up and business organisations will have to work harder to attract and retain employees. Training and skills development should be included in the whole package employers put on offer so that they can build a workforce prepared for the constantly changing business environment, Sheldon added.
As part of its Budget announcement in March, the UK government pledged to create 100,000 new Apprentices in the SME sector. Semta, the UK sector skills council for science, engineering and manufacturing, wants many of these new Apprenticeships to involve engineering training and half of them to feature women in the role of Apprentice Engineers. Semta is committed to attracting more girls to the engineering profession and believes that a larger proportion of women in the sector will deliver benefits for the entire economy.
As part of its drive to change the status quo, Semta is supporting a number of events across the country. Their aim is to raise the profile of engineering among women and help get more female representatives onto management teams.
Commenting on the initiatives, Semta CEO Sarah Sillars noted that women account for just 22% of the advanced manufacturing and engineering workforce. Within that group, only 9% are women qualified as engineers, scientists or technologists and just 5% hold managerial positions. Given that half of all UK employees are women, these figures demonstrate the wealth of talent waiting to be tapped. If the country is to maintain its position as a world-class manufacturer, this skills pipeline has to be kept flowing, Sillars said.
She went on to add that Semta would be partnering with employers, educators, career advisers and young people throughout the year to reinforce the messages spread by key events such as National Apprenticeship Week and Tomorrow’s Engineers Week. It must become clear that girls are just as good as boys at engineering and more young women should pursue training in that field. If the UK has more female engineers and more women on sector management teams, the ultimate beneficiary will be society as a whole, Sillars stated.
The high level of youth unemployment has firmly focused attention on apprenticeships as a critical means of addressing the problem. The benefits of vocational training for both young people and employers was highlighted during National Apprenticeship Week 2014, which ran from 3-7 March. But this celebration of apprenticeships and their contribution to the national economy also provided another opportunity to identify areas where more work needs to be done, Sarah Champion MP writes in a post on the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) blog.
At present the number of NEETs tops one million. In other words, that many young Britons are not in education, employment or training. Apprenticeships have proved a highly viable option for these young people, giving them the opportunity to gain practical skills and work experience and thus pave their way to a rewarding career. This also works to the advantage of employers as they benefit from the enthusiasm and fresh perspective of their young recruits.
However, the fact remains that the government still has its work cut out when it comes to meeting apprenticeship demand, Champion points out. While more apprentice positions are created every year, the number of applications far exceeds that of apprenticeship vacancies. Think tank research has shown there are only 11 apprentice positions for every 1,000 jobs in England. If the UK is to achieve sustained economic growth in the long term, the government must invest seriously in the country’s future talent base and do so without delay. For that reason, Champion supports the BCC call for a focus on youth skills and training in the forthcoming Budget. The organisation has urged Chancellor George Osborne to put apprenticeship investment among his priorities and Champion believes this is the proper course of action to ensure the future prosperity of the UK economy.
National Apprenticeship Week 2014 was a welcome reminder of the tremendous importance of vocational training to businesses, individuals and the economy as a whole. It also highlighted the growing popularity of apprenticeships among companies of all sizes, with employers pledging to create over 20,000 new positions for young people interested in learning on the job and earning money at the same time.
Hundreds of UK firms took the opportunity to unveil plans for apprentice recruitment. Some big companies have committed to creating thousands of new apprentice positions: Lloyds Banking Group, for example, pledged to recruit 5,000 apprentices, while Greene King and Whitbread each announced plans to create 2,000 positions. Other big enterprises making a commitment to apprenticeships included Mitchells & Butlers, Starbucks, EE, Virgin Media and BT. Perhaps even more encouraging is the fact that small and medium-sized enterprises are embracing apprenticeships: 47% of the businesses intent on recruiting apprentices are within that sector.
Commenting on the positive news, Business Secretary Vince Cable said that the government was steadily obliterating the “damaging divide” between vocational training and academic learning. Support for apprenticeships has become a top government priority and two million apprenticeships are set to be created over the course of this parliament.
Cable went on to add that the huge success of National Apprenticeship Week 2014 had confirmed the growing importance of apprenticeships for UK business. It is estimated that apprentices are already making a £1.8 billion contribution to the national economy and the new employer commitments will allow thousands of young Britons to benefit from the career opportunities created by vocational training and help UK companies grow in the process, Cable concluded.
The start of National Apprenticeship Week 2014 was marked by the release of several research reports highlighting the importance of apprenticeships and their growing popularity among employers. One set of findings came from the UK manufacturers’ association EEF, which has found that local manufacturing and engineering companies are increasingly depending on apprentices to tackle the skills shortage problem, Automation magazine reports.
According to the EEF study, 60% of UK engineering and manufacturing firms have recruited an apprentice in the past year. In further good news, more than two-thirds plan to take on engineering and manufacturing apprentices in the 12 months ahead. With the majority (75%) typically bringing in trainees aged 16 to 18, it is apparent that apprenticeships have become critical for building the country’s future talent base.
Commenting on the findings, EEF apprentice and skills director Peter Winebloom said it was great to see that UK engineering and manufacturing firms are actively recruiting apprentices. It is even more encouraging that this practice is growing in popularity. The looming skills gap is a massive challenge for the sector and apprenticeships can help tackle that problem. Moreover, unless the UK has a sufficient supply of engineering and manufacturing talent it will not be able to realise its economic growth potential.
But apprenticeships are not just a means of injecting fresh blood into the sector, Winebloom added. We should not forget their importance for the young people who choose that road: for them, apprenticeships represent the launch pad to professional development and career growth, he pointed out.