Industry seeks clarity on government targets

Jason Ford - News Editor, The EngineerJason Ford, news editor

Briefing starts the week with an offer of congratulations to Colin Sirett who has taken up his role as CEO at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

Airbus’ former head of research for the UK formerly held positions at diesel engine manufacturer Lister Petter, Lucas Diesel Systems and Messier Dowty.

Sirett also holds an engineering degree from Aston University and an MBA from Bath but started his professional life as an apprentice, picking up academic accolades as his career progressed.

“This country lost its way when it started forcing young people to go straight to university,” he said. “Just look at who is at the helm of many of the UK’s leading engineering companies and you will find many former apprentices who gained qualifications while they were at work.”

The government wants 3 million apprentices to have joined the workforce by 2020, and it has also set great store by its 15-point plan to boost productivity and make the UK the wealthiest major economy by 2030.

The government believes it can hit the apprenticeship target with the introduction of a levy that from April 2017 will subtract 0.5% from companies whose wages bills exceed £3m. It is forecast to raise £2.7bn in 2017/18, £2.8bn in 2018/19, £2.9bn in 2019/20 and £3bn in 2020/21.

With the Spring Budget looming, there are those in industry wondering whether the Chancellor might use his speech on March 16 to clarify a range of issues surrounding the Levy.

“A lot has been written about this new legislation, but most manufacturers are still scratching their heads on how it will affect them,” said Paul Cadman, group managing director of Futura Group. “Any clarification in this month’s budget would be much appreciated and ensure that frustration doesn’t turn into a lack of appetite in developing the engineers of the future.”

Futura Group provide design and styling services to car manufacturers and earlier in the year it announced plans to hit £28m turnover in 2016 and grow its export business, which accounts for 20% of sales.

According to Cadman, Britain’s manufacturers will exceed the productivity challenge as long as the government recognises its role in supporting industry.

He told Briefing: “[Government] needs to understand the market and realise that underinvestment in infrastructure – including land, transport and skills – will put us at a strategic disadvantage when compared to our international competitors.

“In terms of action in this budget, I would like to see more support with energy costs. They are ridiculously high compared to our European counterparts and it would be great to see a better application of green taxes so that we can continue to invest in new technology that delivers better environmental performance.

“This shouldn’t just be for big business either as alluded to in the Autumn Statement…it has to flow down the different tiers of the supply chain to have a really positive advantage.”

Are modern apprenticeships properly equipping tomorrow’s workforce, and is enough being done to boost productivity? Let us know your thoughts on these issues – plus what you’d like to see in the Spring Budget – below.