Skills in the spotlight in Government's Industrial Strategy | EEF

Skills in the spotlight in Government's Industrial Strategy

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Manufacturers are striving to attract and retain the best people and to fill the well-documented skills gaps in our industry. As our Manufacturing Ambitions report found, reducing the skills gap appears to be our sector’s Everest.

EEF has always said that delivering a more skilled and adaptable workforce is a key pillar for a successful industrial strategy, and therefore needs to take centre stage and be addressed appropriately.

I am (very possibly) bias – however of all the Government’s 10 pillars for a new Industrial Strategy – developing skills is by far the most important (colleagues and I can debate that later…..)

Why do I, and so many manufacturers, talk about the importance of skills?


Skills are fundamental to manufacturers’ growth ambition plans. When asking manufacturers their plans for the year ahead, these plans go hand in hand with the skills they say their businesses are demanding:


Manufacturers’ plans for the future pretty much hinge on their ability to access these skills.

However, almost three-quarters (72%) of manufacturers are concerned about finding the skills their businesses need.


Why are they concerned? Well here is another stat for you:

Three-quarters of manufacturers have struggled to recruit highly-skilled engineers in the past three years.


It’s not for the want of trying

There is often quite a bit of pushback on employers when it comes to skills….suggestions that employers have fallen short when it comes to training for example (check out our blog on the IFS report on the Apprenticeship Levy).

Our research clearly indicates that manufacturers’ inability to find the right still is not for the want of trying.



So what’s the Government pitching, what do we think about it….and more importantly what do you (manufacturers) think about it?

1. Improve basic skills

What’s the problem? Not enough young people leave education without a basic level of English and maths.

This level of attainment (GSCE grade A* to C) is not just demanded, but expected from employers.

Three-quarters of manufacturers prioritise attainment in English, maths and the sciences when recruiting apprentices.


Yet, at EEF’s own Apprentice Training Centre we had 8,500 applications for 350 apprenticeship vacancies but could only fill 330. Many candidates did not have the required levels of English and maths.

Q: What more can Government do to improve basic skills?


2. Create a new system of technical education

What’s the problem? The UK does not have a technical education system comparable to our European counterparts.

Manufacturers continue to report problems in accessing relevant, responsive skills provision. A quarter of manufacturers say a lack of good quality local training provision is a barrier to recruiting apprentices.

Government wants to create new Institutes of Technology – something EEF supports. Any funding however must be targeted at those institutions that can deliver employer-led, high-quality STEM provision.

Q: Do you agree with the different elements of the vision for a new system of technical education?


3. Addressing STEM shortages

What’s the problem? Skills is our sector’s Everest.

Three-quarters of manufacturers have struggled to fill engineering roles and almost three-quarters are concerned about their companies’ ability to find the skills they need to grow.

If you read our 2012 Skills for Growth report and then our 2016 Up-Skill Battle report it is clear that little progress has been made. The already yawning STEM skills gap is widening and it’s time to take action.



4. Identifying and addressing sector-specific needs

What’s the problem? Manufacturers are increasingly demanding higher-level, niche skills needs.

Government pinpoints sectors such as infrastructure and the nuclear sector as particularly skills-shortage hotspots. It makes nods to efforts by the Migration Advisory Committee, Low Pay Commission for looking at sectors, but thinks there’s a case for something more focused.

Q: What skills shortages do we have or expected to have, in particular sector, or local areas?

5. Higher quality careers information

What’s the problem? Report after report concludes that careers provision is poor….and that’s being nice.

60% of manufacturers say better informed careers advice in schools will encourage more young people into manufacturing.


We want to see stronger employer-engagement and careers advice, guidance and inspiration begin far earlier than it does now.

And it doesn’t stop when young people move into adulthood. The days of having just one career are behind us. Now, people have multiple careers with some people making a complete career U-turn.

And even if employees aren’t switching their careers entirely, they still need to be retrained and up-skilled, especially in our industry, where new technologies, processes and innovations means that employees’ skills-sets need to keep pace.

Q: How can we enable and encourage people to retrain and upskill throughout their working lives?



On all these issues, we ask for your views. You can tell us what you think by email: or Twitter: @EEF_Economists




Head of Education & Skills Policy

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