The government’s mounting uncertainty over skills funding could place the competitiveness of UK manufacturers at risk, warned manufacturers' organisation, EEF.

According to the group, companies planning for the economic upturn were beginning to make plans for future employee training.

However, it claimed that a lack of policy regarding next year’s training schemes would prevent many from committing to skills programmes, including apprenticeships, beyond the end of this year.

Lee Hopley, head of economic policy at the EEF, said: ‘Potentially there will be a skills shortage when the upturn comes.

'Manufacturers have been doing their best to hang on to skilled workers during this recession.

'The ability of these companies to do that over the next six months, in what is likely to be pretty difficult economic conditions, is going to be key to the extent of the skills shortage further out.’

In an EEF survey of around 700 companies, 55 per cent of manufacturers said they were concerned about their ability to attract and retain skilled staff in preparation for the recovery.

The EEF has asked the government to clarify its long-term plans for training programmes to prevent a possible skills shortage in the future.

‘What we’re really looking for at the moment is some clarity to what is going to happen to funding beyond this year,’ said Hopley.

‘Businesses are trying to plan against a very uncertain economic backdrop.

'Any uncertainty about whether or not funding is going to be there makes it more difficult for manufacturers to plan beyond the end of this year.’

The EEF said a statement from the Learning and Skills Council, aimed at clarifying the funding of Train to Gain and apprenticeship programmes, offered little confidence for the availability of support after this year.

In response, a spokesperson for the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) said: ‘In a recession the most important thing we can do is to train people and give them the skills they and their employers need to lead us out of the downturn.

‘That is why during this year alone we are investing almost £1bn in Train to Gain, training record numbers of people – 100,000 more over the last two years than we originally planned.

'In the engineering and manufacturing technologies sector, take up of Train to Gain has more than doubled, from 22,400 in 2007/08 to 46,500 in 2008/09.

‘But of course the training budget is not unlimited, and working with the Learning and Skills Council, we have to ensure that in the long term spending matches resources in the best interests of both learners and employers.

'As such, the LSC will continue to work with individual organisations to resolve funding allocations for the rest of the year.’

Ellie Zolfagharifard