Skills shake-up

A government study has identified the need for greater co-ordination and an image boost for manufacturing jobs training. Andrew Lee reports

Meeting manufacturing’s huge future demand for skilled staff will require a ‘fundamental improvement’ in its image and a shake-up of the skills development system, according to the government’s new strategic plan for the sector.

New Challenges, New Opportunities estimates that an extra 324,000 engineers and scientists will be needed in the manufacturing sector by 2014.

Equipping them with the skills required by the UK’s increasingly technology-led manufacturing base is a major theme of the proposals, drawn up by the Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills (DIUS).

The strategy document concedes that the current skills support system, which operates through a number of routes including Sector Skills Councils, Train to Gain and Business Link, is often too complicated. ‘Employers, particularly SMEs, often report difficulties understanding and accessing the range of support available,’ it says.

In an attempt to rectify this the government said Business Link will be the primary access point for business support. It claims that from next April manufacturers will enjoy ‘a single seamless service’ offering ‘straightforward advice and support’.

Manufacturing will be used as the pilot sector for changes to the national skills development system suggested by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), which is investigating reforms on behalf of the government.

UKCES is involved in a programme of re-licensing the sector skills councils and will develop Train to Gain as a more integrated service. It is also creating what it describes as a Talent Map — a plan of the skills system that shows clearly how employers can work with government agencies.

Other skills-focused proposals in the manufacturing strategy include boosting the number of high-quality apprenticeships and offering tailored support for specific sectors where appropriate.

Attracting people to the sector in the first place is another key priority identified by DIUS, which concedes that ‘we need to improve fundamentally the image of manufacturing for future generations.’

The government plans to work with industry to create a body called Manufacturing Insight, which aims to boost the sector’s image to potential employees, and young people in particular.

One of the new organisation’s tasks will be to improve links between schools and the careers advice service.

The manufacturing strategy was given a cautious welcome by bodies representing businesses in the sector.

The Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC) said aerospace and defence employs more than 250,000 highly skilled workers. ‘The UK industry will need more such skilled people in the future to maintain its global position.’

The government is working with the SBAC on a long-term aerospace skills plan designed to identify and meet the needs of the sector.