Collective action can help fill skills gap

 Edward Grainger, director Grainger & Worrall

In one of our recent polls, we asked our readers who they thought should lead the charge in tackling the skills gap. Just under 40 per cent of respondents thought the buck should stop with engineering employers, with this option topping the poll. In light of that, Edward Grainger, director of automotive casting specialist Grainger & Worrall (GW), outlines how employers can help address the issue by forming training partnerships. 

Operating in the highly competitive automotive component sector, we have experience in designing and manufacturing engine castings for the likes of Aston Martin, Bentley, McLaren, as well as teams on the F1 grid. Even though we are a £50m turnover business with a strong track record of growth, attracting highly skilled engineers to maintain this success has become a challenge.

This lack of skilled engineers and casting/machining technicians with experience in CAD design, CNC setting, pattern making and production cell operation, prompted us to establish our own training academy to address the chronic shortage of quality engineers and casting technicians.

Having shared this intention with other local companies, we soon realised that joining forces with like-minded employers in the region would make much more sense. These businesses, all of whom had similar skills needs, included Classic Motor Cars Ltd, a classic car restoration specialist, and Salop Design & Engineering, one of the UK’s leading manufacturers of pressings and assemblies.

We have partnered with In-Comm Training to form a consortium which last year secured a £1.9m contract from the Marches LEP, funded via its Growth Deal with Government, to develop the Marches Centre of Manufacturing and Technology (MCMT).

We are obviously delighted that this initiative has come to fruition after a lot of work and years of planning. It goes to show that as employers, we can all sit and bemoan the problem of the skills shortage. But nothing will change without us making things happen. I’d encourage other engineering businesses to take inspiration from this initiative, which shows that the ‘grow your own, keep your own’ philosophy can work in a manufacturing environment.

Granted, this is no short-term fix, but we’re now able to say we will see a flow of appropriately trained student and graduate apprenticeships within three years. It should also be said that this initiative isn’t just about young people, as many of the beneficiaries will be existing employees, adult apprenticeships and those undertaking specialist training to help us meet the needs of various export markets. This will make a huge difference to our business and facilitate further growth and job creation in the Shropshire region.

So far, the consortium has privately invested £1.1m into the development of MCMT, which aims to target 2020 learners by the year 2020. We are aiming to develop apprentices in advanced manufacturing and engineering, giving not just GW, but other local engineering companies, a strong pool of skills to tap into as they continue to compete globally.

Our skills initiative goes hand in hand with the apprenticeship levy. When the levy was first discussed, it felt like an additional tax. However, for engineering companies who already invest heavily in their teams, the levy will provide an additional source of funding to develop their existing and future workforce. Combining this with local partnerships, I am confident we can close the skills gap and create a pipeline of talented, passionate and highly-skilled engineers of the future.