Ahead of the Chancellor's Autumn Statement we are blogging about EEF's recommendations for boosting growth.
As the global economic outlook remains uncertain, it is crucial that the government dismantles the biggest barriers to growth. Yesterday Andrew discussed critical changes to the tax framework, and today I will be focusing on what the government can do to ensure companies have access to the skilled employees they need to grow. Look out later in the week for blogs on access to finance and regulation.
Why do we need to focus on skills?
EEF's recent Flexible Workplaces survey showed that nearly half of the companies were interested in recruiting an apprentice over the next year and almost 30% had considered taking on new engineering graduates. However, manufacturers continue to report difficulties in filling both apprentice and graduate vacancies with adequate foundations in maths and science.
In fact, in EEF's Shape of British Industry survey we found that a lack of skills is one of the most significant barriers to growth that manufacturers face.
Recent evidence, such as the UK's poor productivity performance, suggests that the recession has had a negative impact on the UK's skills base. In the short-term action must be taken to remove barriers companies face in taking on new apprentices, and over the medium-term there is a need to ensure a steady stream of STEM-qualified school and university graduates.
What are we recommending?
Firstly government should clarify the legal status of apprenticeships.
The government's continued commitment to growing the Apprenticeship programme has been welcome. A positive direction of travel has been set and we urge government to continue along this path.
However, barriers to recruiting apprentices remain. In particular, there are concerns around the on going lack of clarity about the ‘prescribed form' a written apprenticeship agreement must take from an employment law perspective.Steps must be taken to resolve this lack of clarity as soon as possible, so as not to run the risk of this issue inhibiting employers from taking on apprentices.Secondly, STEM careers advice should be part of subject curricula and included in continuing professional development training for science teachers
The Department for Business' ambition to grow the number of apprentices is positive, but it will be undermined if action is not taken to repair the pipeline of young people studying relevant subjects at ages 14-19 years.
There are a number of helpful initiatives in train, such as additional funding to recruit STEM teachers and funding to increase the University Technical College network, but there are long-standing issues with the careers advice that is made available in schools.
The current Education and Skills Growth Review project must start to connect the 14-19 years agenda in schools with the goal of increasing the number of students with the qualifications for a career in industry. This could be done by:
- Making STEM careers advice part of both CPD for science teachers and subject curricula.
- Providing a minimum standard of careers advice on the entire range of employment and learning options available. Including ensuring vocational education and progression routes are given equal billing in careers guidance.