20 July 2011
Manufacturing has to muscle in on the school curriculum to end the shortage of skilled workers that has long haunted the sector, rules WM's new industry think tank, the Leaders Forum in association with Bourton Group
The WM Leaders Forum, in association with Bourton Group, is a new think tank for UK manufacturing. Formed of frontline factory managers and industry representatives, the group will deliver hands-on advice on how to tackle the big challenges facing you. At its inaugural meeting, the Leaders Forum took on the ultimate manufacturing challenge: how do we solve the skills gap? (For Forum participants, see pages 20-21.)
MG: "Why do we have such a problem with skills in manufacturing?"
AC: "We've got a massive cultural issue in the UK where we devalue and debase vocational skills. We tell our youngsters they're failures if they haven't got a degree and we wonder why in our sector we're ill equipped for the advanced technologies and high value add that will be core components to our future manufacturing economy.
"We've got a cultural gap at schools. I spend a lot of time of time talking to youngsters in primary schools and they've never heard of manufacturing unless their mums and dads are in it. That's not good enough."
CW: "I work with a local school to try to enthuse students about engineering. A lot of them don't realise what's involved. I try to show them from the nano to the macro scale how we can have an impact."
JB: "I'm taking on a work experience student in July and already I've got two health and safety visits looming. I find schools have never heard of us."
AC: "The amount of time I have to spend to convince the staff at a local school that it's safe to bring kids in is so frustrating. I'm quite convinced that if I couldn't see a direct line to the importance to my business in 10-15 years, I wouldn't be bothered.
"My other gripe is the curriculum: it's not the teachers' fault there really isn't room made for visits to things that aren't going to be judged in the scorecard for the school. Why would they visit manufacturers? We don't add value for things our customers are not prepared to pay for."
GW: "My wife's a teacher and I've got to say when you look at the curriculum they do science and technology, but there's no relationship between that and engineering in the real world. We're working with a girl's school on a project that translates physics into real-life challenges. We've now had six applicants from the school for our apprenticeship scheme. My view is we don't need to rely on government bodies to do what's right for our business."
RW: "The government's role is about preparing the raw material and they're falling short. I despair when my daughter comes home from school and I see her homework on technical work. To me it's just an extension of the art class. The cost of developing apprentices is already high so the last thing you want to have to do is develop basic skills on top."
GW: "Do you think that's changed? I don't remember doing anything related to engineering at school."
RW: "I did technical drawing and metalwork. That appears entirely absent and okay, we do have to replace a lot of it with more advanced computer studies, but not by neglecting the basic skills."
GW: "If you don't get to kids before they're 14 years old and plant that engineering seed, then you've lost them. We've got to try and find a way of making manufacturing more glamorous within the curriculum."
AC: "Manufacturing is still 12% of the economy, bigger than finance."
GW: "But who would know that? My wife wouldn't know that. She would never be talking to her class about that."
AC: "For me, it's no coincidence that in the UK we have a larger proportion of SMEs and fewer large manufacturers than Germany or the US, and have focused less on skills. We need to focus on growing our SMEs to the next level."
GW: "Getting large businesses who can dictate government thinking is vital. If you have 20 SMEs in a room with the minister they're not going to hold sway like one international giant can."
MB: "I think part of the problem we've got now is down to advances in technology. Years ago, when a kid asked 'how does that work?', somebody could explain it. Now things like mobile phone cameras are taken for granted and even us engineers can't explain how they work. That's why it's harder to get people interested."
AW: "Something we've never cracked as a country is careers advice. Young people in schools are not getting the right level of information. Students in a catchment area for, say, Siemens or BAE Systems will get the chance to be inspired. But elsewhere, the school's attitude to engineering seems to be 'we'll send you off to the local training provider to work with your hands because you're a bit thick'."
GW: "We've got to take responsibility here because the government is not going to fix all this. We've got to get into schools. The point about kids not understanding mobile phones is crucial. Every kid has a mobile. Is anybody asking them how was that developed? Do you know the processes that went into making this gadget you're so fond of?"
MB: "That's the way in and they'd be interested."
JB: "But how do smaller companies get the message across? For Siemens, it's quite easy because everybody knows you. I find local schools have never heard of us although we've been here for 25 years."
BT: "I think we almost got there when we designed qualifications like manufacturing or engineering GCSEs or diplomas. Once you have champions in the staff room, you stand a much better chance of being heard. If you have somebody responsible for getting As, Bs and Cs in manufacturing/engineering, it's going to dramatically raise our profile."
Finding a short term solution to the skills gap MG: "We're all agreed a change in mindset at schools is the long-term solution to the skills crisis. But what about the interim: will an extra 75,000 apprenticeships and £250 million pledged by the government last year solve the problem?"
BT: "What you have to understand is that this finance is, to a degree, just recycled money. What industry relied on in the past was the Train to Gain funding to help with upskilling existing staff. The extra apprentices will be a good thing. But industry needs a Train to Gain style fund, too. A lot of the supply chain is finding it difficult to invest in skills in the tough economic climate."
AW: "75,000 apprenticeships sounds like a lot but when you consider that is across all sectors and not just manufacturing, it's not so great."
AC: "We have to be very careful about the figures. It costs a fraction to train a hairdresser compared to a manufacturing apprentice."
MB: "We've got a problem with apprenticeships being thrown into one bucket. I'm not trying to devalue anybody's skills, but there needs to be some kind of distinction between them."
MG: "How many of those 75,000 will end up in manufacturing?"
BT: "16,000 apprentices. Currently, we've got an ambition for the sector to try and double that number over the next three to five years."
MG: "Is it right employers that pay for apprenticeships rather than government?"
AC: "If the government could get the schools side right and could get youngsters thinking about it, then I wouldn't have a problem making that investment, which is about £80,000 per apprentice."
CW: "In a small business you're always multi tasking, so recruiting a new apprentice or employee is a big deal. Taking one person out of their job to spend time training another is a big investment in the business."
AW: "One of the big challenges is actually finding the employers to take on apprentices, because particularly for engineering and manufacturing, you need to have that workplace experience. Cost is a barrier and the demands on time, particularly for SMEs."
JB: "We looked at getting an apprentice in and found it very difficult to get information from the college on what they were going to be taught. All we were offered was apprentices qualified in metal bashing. When you do tapes and conversions there's not a lot of tape that needs bashing."
BT: "The flexibility is there. Colleges are picking an average syllabus which gives the best fit for the majority of employers. If a small company has a unique need, they will find it very hard to get maximum impact from the foundation part of training. But some of the things you're talking about cost big bucks for colleges.
"We need to develop a hybrid system where companies can talk to colleges about tailoring programmes. The philosophy of producing large numbers of metal bashers is not good enough if we're going to have a manufacturing sector based on emerging technologies."
AC: "So often, we're told by the national media that youngsters have a choice between vocational training or going to university and being a success. It doesn't have to be like that. Any apprentice who is good enough will go on to a degree that I will fund. The commitment I get back is unbelievable. Also, it allows you to attract the high calibre youngsters who would have gone straight to university."
BT: "With the burden of tuition fees, the marketplace could really open up for us. This is a unique situation we've not seen in a decade."
MG: "What's the game plan?"
BT: "To get champions at SME level who can tell youngsters they can start as an apprentice and end up with a degree. Earn while you learn and still get to the same place – it's a great business proposition. We're not getting that message out clearly enough."
AW: "There are weaknesses in the system, which we need to put right. Let's do what manufacturing does best and put some brown paper on the wall with Post-it notes and apply some continuous improvement to this process to fix it."
Have you got what it takes to join the WM Leaders Forum?
If you're passionate about UK manufacturing and want to take part: email email@example.com
For more information on Bourton Group visit www.bourton.co.uk
The WM Leaders Forum manifesto on skills 1. Put manufacturing on the school curriculum
The source of the skills gap is schools. Talented youngsters turn a blind eye to manufacturing because they never even hear about the sector. We must enshrine dedicated content on the national curriculum to counter this worrying void, particularly at primary school level when pupils are most impressionable. Statutory requirements should include: -school visits by manufacturing managers to promote careers in the sector - field trips to local factories wherever possible, with less of the red tape that currently frustrates visits - the use of real-life manufacturing or engineering examples in the classroom – for example, studying the design and production process behind mobile phones, or using factory-based examples to teach core skills in maths and science.
2. Get the basics right Schools must drive up the standards of maths and numeracy [CHECK]. Manufacturers complain that apprentices lack basic skills so they have to fill in the gaps with apprentices, which is proving a costly and time-consuming process.
3. More flexible apprenticeships Colleges are producing one dimensional apprentices who lack the specialist skills desperately needed by manufacturers. If the UK is to become a world leader in advanced manufacturing, apprentices will need to be trained in latest technologies and processes. Teaching metal bashing is not good enough.
4. Take on the degree bias Apprenticeships are not the ugly sister of university courses. Placements offer fantastic career development prospects, don't saddle candidates with lifetime debt and can lead to sponsored degrees at a later point. We all know it, but the trouble is most young people don't. The industry has to work harder to get this message across. A network of manufacturing champions should be created to sell the benefits of apprenticeships to youngsters. Do you back the Leaders Forum manifesto? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org
This material is protected by Findlay Media copyright
One-off usage is permitted but bulk copying is not.
For multiple copies contact the