Manufacturers' thoughts on skills - ask the audience

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Last week EEF in partnership with Siemens held a Make it Britain conference at the International Festival of Business in Liverpool, which showcased manufacturing in all it's glory.

As well as listening from a wide range of high level speakers including Lord Younger and Juergen Maier, we asked the audience a few questions so we could hear from them.

Our second panel of the day was World Class Skills - Susan Scurlock of Primary Engineer, Andrea Hough of AT Engine Controls, Justin Kelly of Siemens and EEF's very own Tim Thomas led the charge. Covering the issue of skills in a mere 90 minutes is somewhat a challenge but credit to our panel they did a fantastic job. So with skills being such a passionate issue amongst our members what did the audience say on the day?

Getting young people into manufacturing

With an ageing workforce manufacturing desperately needs to get more young talent into the industry so we kicked off by asked what was the best way to get young people into manufacturing?

After quite a close call STEM based initiatives between business and schools came out on top, fighting off stiff competition including giving teachers a better understanding of industry. Both important, but the first highlights the case for industry to use fantastic organisations like Primary Engineer that bring together schools and employers to promote STEM in schools.

Attracting entry-level talent

We then asked our crowd what they thought was the best way to attract entry level talent - with a particular focus on apprentices and graduates.

Nearly half the audience (49%) went for showcasing the career prospects in manufacturing. Some 29% said the image and prestige of manufacturing. All in all it seems that employers think the best way we can get more apprentices and graduates into manufacturing is to put our industry directly in the spotlight.

Widening the net of talent

Once manufacturers have recruited the skilled employees their companies need, how best can they then retain them? Over half (55%) said better career maps for employees - which pipped other options including better pay and reward, more flexible working and increased investment in training. We know that manufacturers are planning to increase training budgets, have higher wages than in other industries - but how good are manufacturing employers at mapping our the career prospects for their employees? Well, speaking to many EEF members this direction of travel is clear - 80% of the workforce required in 2020 is already in the workforce, so companies cannot solely rely on attracting entry level talent, they must also look at their existing stock of skills and it was obvious from companies' responses that they were retaining skills in various ways.

What role for government?

So that's a big list of activity that manufacturers can undertake to attract, retain and retrain the skilled and whilst it is ultimately up to employers to do so, government must put the right building blocks in place to make this happen. So what should government do?

Over half (55%) of manufacturers said the one thing government could do to support manufacturers to access skills would be to improve the employability skills of school, college and university leavers and a third (33%) said that increasing the number of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) learners would be the best thing government could do to help manufacturers.

We have touched upon both of those issues many times. Most recently in our report Improving the Quality and Quantity of Graduate Level Skills which found that manufacturers were struggling to recruit and retain quality graduates and that we are simply not producing the numbers required by industry. The manufacturers in the room at the International Festival of Business clearly knew what they wanted from government - to both improve the quality of those leaving the education system and increase the number of STEM learners and here's just a couple of actions that government could take to achieve this:

  • All higher education STEM courses to include at least an optional placement year for graduates to gain industry experience before qualifying
  • Sufficiently resource universities to ensure they can deliver high quality STEM courses demanded by industry and learners to close the gap between STEM applications and acceptances
  • Give employers access to information on how to engage with higher education establishments including offering placements and recruiting students, using a model such as the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS)
  • Encourage take up of STEM subjects at GCSE and A-level to increase the number of STEM learners at HE
  • Dramatically improve current careers provision including independent face to face provision available to pupils before choosing subjects

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Head of Education & Skills Policy

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