THERE is a skills challenge facing manufacturing companies in this region but it is one we are meeting head-on.
Around 8,500 highly skilled workers are due to retire in the next six years and a further 15,000 employees need to improve their skills to ensure the North East can continue to perform as a world-class region.
Approximately 16% of the technical workforce in North East engineering is aged 55 plus as opposed to 4% 16-24 year olds so it is vital we address this issue now.
That is why we formed the North East Skills Alliance for Advanced Manufacturing aiming to almost double the number of apprentices recruited in the sector this year while also taking on more graduates and upskilling existing workforces.
The group is made up of representatives from all 12 local authorities, champion employers, business membership organisations, training providers and the National Apprenticeship Service, who have joined forces to speak with one voice on the issue.
We need the message to get through, especially to the smaller and medium-sized firms, that there is unprecedented support, including funding, to help recruit and train young people as well as adult apprentices, and make the process of hiring apprentices as easy as possible for businesses.
Growth plans announced by some of the region’s biggest firms point to excellent career prospects in manufacturing and engineering.
While the closure of the Alcan smelter in Northumberland earelier this year was a blow, it is encouraging that many of the workers have found employment elsewhere – and the same will be true of those who will become unemployed with the closure of BAE Systems in Newcastle.
Skilled people are in demand.
We need to try and get into a position where we are training the future workforce, retaining the best graduates and minimising having to go abroad to acquire the people with the skills our industries need. Here are some key facts that are woreth considering:
lThe North East accounts for 5% of UK engineering employment and 3% of all UK engineering businesses, and generates 11% towards the total GVA for the sector in the UK. It employs 60,400 people in 2,150 establishments.
lSome 41,700 people (69%) are employed in direct technical roles (engineers, scientists and technologists).
lA total of 91% of engineering sites in the North East employ fewer than 50 people.
lSemta’s research found 23% of engineering establishments in the North East reported skills gaps (compared to a figure of 26% across England). Skills gaps were most likely in craft and manager occupations.
lThe proportion of companies with skills gaps tended to increase by size of employer. This ranged from 15% of micro-sized establishments (less than 10 employees), 22% of small employers (10-49 employees), 57% of medium sized employers (50-249 employees) and 38% of large employers (250+ employees).
lApproximately 2,600 employees (4% of the total workforce) in the engineering sectors in the North East had skills gaps, with more than half of this total being in craft and operator occupations.
Action is happening now to address the skills gap and capitalise on so many positive recent news announced by firms including Nissan, Hitachi, SSI Steel, Siemens, Caterpillar, Wessington Cryogenics and Nifco.
Apprenticeship start-ups are already 20% higher against the same period last year but, as the academic year comes to a close, we hope to see the September intake further exceed what has been achieved so far.
Our North East Skills Alliance has set an ambitious target – to grow the number of apprentices by 10% every year up to 2017.
A great deal of partnership work is taking place – big and small firms sharing best practice, looking at ways of building talent pools – so, for example, if one firm is taking on 10 but there are 20 great candidates, companies in our sector are working in a more co-ordinated way to help those who just miss out on firm A to get a position at firm B, C or D.
It is important young people understand working in industry is no longer the stereotypical men in overalls covered in oil. Both male and female apprentices have fantastic career prospects with the training opportunities open to them in a wide range of disciplines.
They can be equipped for a lifetime of work, gaining qualifications at the same time as earning. As it stands 13% of engineering employees in the North East have no qualifications compared to 8% of the engineering workforce across the UK. For the engineering workforce in the North East to be at world-class skills levels there is an upskilling requirement for over a third of those working in technical roles, 15,000 people in total.
Semta has recently developed a higher level apprenticeship in advanced manufacturing. The new framework will not only upskill the existing workforce, it will develop new recruits and, because the framework is designed with employers, it will encourage more companies to hire apprentices.
Careers advice and guidance is critical in persuading young people to participate. Too often the option of apprenticeships for those with five GCSEs, including maths and those with A-levels is not properly recognised as suitable or viable.
Each young apprentice is treated as an individual, supported every step of the way in developing not only the technical skills required for the company they work for but transferable skills such as application of numbers, information and communications technology, team working, problem-solving, personal learning and thinking skills.
Earning while learning and working towards industry-recognised qualifications as well as acquiring technical skills is an attractive alternative to doing a degree and can lead to successful, long-term careers and the lifestyle associated with such stability.
We need to keep getting this message through to ensure engineering and manufacturing continue to be the driving force of the UK economy.
Lynn Tomkins is UK operations director for Semta, the sector skills council for science, engineering and manufacturing technologies