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How can apprenticeships help to bridge the UK’s manufacturing skills gaps?

POSTED: 11th December 2014
IN: Business news
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With the judges currently selecting regional winners for the category, Aldermore reviews the importance of apprenticeships for the future of UK manufacturing.

undefinedAlongside recognising Britain’s leading manufacturing businesses, the EEF Future Manufacturing Awards also sets out to celebrate the sector’s up-and-coming stars, through four apprentice awards.

According to data from the Office of National Statistics, 71 per cent of SME manufacturers see access to skilled employees as their biggest challenge. Worse still, a survey by Nestlé UK and Ireland also found that a third of firms in the sector believe the situation has worsened in the past five years. Evidently, since ONS reports that 30 per cent of manufacturing employees were over 50 in 2013, the sector urgently needs to attract a steady flow of new talent to pave the way for future growth.

Given the practical skills and specific technical knowledge required for many manufacturing roles, apprenticeships are likely to play a crucial role in addressing this challenge. Unfortunately, encouraging young people to pursue this career path has proven difficult and according to SJD Accountancy, the number of new engineering apprentices reached its lowest level in three years in 2013/14. Reflecting on the issue, EEF’s Employment and Skills Policy Advisor Verity O’Keefe commented:

 "Apprenticeships are a valuable, credible route into industries such as manufacturing and engineering, but are still seen by many as a second-best career pathway.”

Dennis Smith, Head of Quality Control for Sheffield-based manufacturer Darron SBO agrees, lamenting:

“It seems university is the ultimate goal for everybody, whereas in engineering you can get more consistency of learning from a manual apprenticeship.”

Emma Wharton, Head of Human Resources at Sofa Brands International, attributes the problem to a lack of understanding regarding the diverse careers available within the sector.

People often associate manufacturing as being dirty, manual work and are often unaware of the range of professions that the industry actually offers,” she states.  “When I speak to the apprentices we have across Sofa Brands International, they all felt that their schools could have done more to educate them about apprenticeship placements.”

In fact, Nestle also found that 51 per cent of 14 to 16 year olds have little knowledge of science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers, though 78 per cent would be open to considering a related profession.

In order to overcome this awareness gap and overturn the stigma against apprenticeships, compared to more traditional educational routes, the government has announced a new national database of apprenticeships courses, expected to launch in September 2015.

"By giving every 16-year-old access to a one-stop shop for the growing number of choices they have, more young people will be able to access the options available to them and make better informed choices about their career paths,” asserted Nick Clegg, introducing the project.

Aldermore commends EEF for championing the value of apprenticeships through the Future Manufacturing Awards, and looks forward to hearing more about the industry’s most promising talent.

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