SMEs expect growth if skills shortages can be tackled

England’s manufacturing SMEs believe they will grow in 2013 but remain concerned about expansion being stifled by skills shortages.

The latest Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) Barometer of over 700 respondents reveals that 43 per cent of companies questioned have seen an increase in their order books over the past six months – up four per cent on the previous survey – with 62 per cent expecting sales turnover to grow between now and June 2013.

Growth predictions are mirrored in intentions to hire new staff (up seven per cent to 39 per cent) and increase investment in new premises and machinery (up 3 per cent to 44 per cent).

Lorraine Holmes, area director for MAS in the North and West, said, ‘Our companies are sending out a powerful message and highlighting their determination to explore new opportunities in 2013 following a year of global consolidation in 2012.’

Barriers

The specialist focus for the latest MAS Barometer was on market knowledge and skills, with respondents asked to reveal their biggest barriers to training and recruitment.

45 per cent said availability of specific skills was a major hurdle to their growth plans, followed by wage expectations, and the level of skills available.

Production operatives, CAD designers and CNC programmers are the employees most in demand by SME manufacturers, but 32 per cent of all recruitment needs focus on non-shop floor positions, such as sales, marketing and IT.

When questioned about fulfilling future staff requirements between now and 2016, manufacturing SMEs said apprentices and graduates will only fill 39 per cent of the new jobs.

In a statement, Holmes said: ‘SEMTA has done a fantastic job of helping companies develop the future pipeline of talent, with a recent report highlighting a 142 per cent increase in the number of apprentice starts since 2009-10.

‘What our findings show is that there is still work to do and we need to ensure that the recent progress is just the start and we continue to develop apprentices and graduates that have the right level and types of skills required by manufacturers.

‘In terms of where the remaining 61 per cent will come from? Well we’ve had a lot of anecdotal information to say companies are turning to older and, in some cases, retired workers as an immediate solution to their skills shortages.’

Business secretary Vince Cable said the issue of skills would be discussed at the forthcoming Manufacturing Summit in Warwickshire.

Nearly a quarter of respondents (22 per cent) felt that growth plans were being hindered because they don’t know where to advertise to find the right candidate. A simple solution to this problem can be found here.