On the 23rd Feb we ventured out to the modern EEF Skills and Training building for the Insider West Midlands Skills in Manufacturing breakfast. Manufacturing and education professionals alike gathered to hear from a panel of experts, network and discuss ideas to shrink the skills gap and get more young people into the manufacturing and engineering sectors.
After a much needed coffee and a short network session we gathered to hear the first of the panellists, lead by Kurt Jacobs; editor of Insider. They were, Richard Green from the Design and Technology Association, Alex Crofts, chief executive, Crofts & Assinder and Mussa Mahomed, group CEO, Nylacast.
The first topic up debate was whether we do enough to get young people into the sector and if not, can we do more? This sparked off discussions about bring the sector out of the greasy dark shadows and into the light and in front of parents and schools alike, “We should invite the public into the manufacturing floor so that they can see the creativity happening.”
Young people are under a lot of pressure now to make the ‘£100,000 decision’ about their future prospects, whether they want to choose the skills sector against the government’s push for traditional academic success.
Although it’s not just the new generation of workers that need to fill the skills gap; it’s the existing workforce too. Training current staff will help with employee retention and building up a skilled workforce. Bringing employees up to speed with the current technology will help them to create team leaders for the new generation of work force, “the family tradition of generations all going into manufacturing has been lost, communities need to be built up again to change minds.”
The second panel was made up of Gary Dimmock, business solutions centres manager from the University of Wolverhampton, John Evans, CEO, National College for High Speed Rail and Neil Withey, commercial manager, Apprentice and Skills – EEF. They discussed the importance of lifelong learning. A brief survey of the room showed that most people either went to university or did an apprenticeship, although the panellists stressed the importance of a synergy between the two. With skills based education we can provide, “the skills needed for the future of the economy.”
The basis of this shift in thinking needs to come from all levels of the process, from schools, colleges, parents and businesses. “By engaging with the supply chain you can create a community of skills and business relationships for the future.” This comes from a greater knowledge base to inform about what an engineers and manufactures do and how diverse the role is. It’s not just a single role, it’s a career that changes and develops as skills evolve. A lot of the school leavers are undervaluing the potential of the role with statistics saying that only 2% of students wanted to do engineering, whereas 10% of students wanted to be singers and actors.
The importance of changing the perceptions of manufacturing roles was stressed as being key. We need to inform people that manufacturing work forces are skilled and passionate about their role, which needs to be synchronised with businesses and schools supporting each other. This will enforce the benefits of lifelong learning and help to shape the future, by providing the careers advice and skills training that is so desperately needed.