MHAMacIntyre Hudson: Manifesto for manufacturers and engineering businesses
Below we outline some of the conclusions of a recent debate, chaired by Dr James Balkwill of Oxford Brookes University, and featured in a MHA MacIntyre Hudson ‘manifesto for manufacturers and engineering businesses‘.
There will be 800,000 jobs to fill in the years up to 2020 as people retire or leave manufacturing, according to a recent report by the Government Office for Science.
With a shortage already building, the ability of the sector to grow, produce, sell and export manufactured goods or engineering solutions is under real threat. While there is good work being done around improving apprenticeships and establishing the university technical college concept much more needs to be done.
Headline recommendations from the debate were:
Government should set education strategy to equip young people with skills appropriate to the UK‘s employment needs. Demand-led education would therefore look at the estimated needs of the manufacturing, engineering and other key strategic industries and tune secondary education to produce young people with the appropriate skill sets. Some of our young people would go straight into vocational training via apprenticeship schemes, while others would look to undertake a university education to provide the next generation of engineering graduates (see below). While some academic subjects are commonly needed, vocational and STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) need to be given more emphasis and their value reflected within the system. It is too early to see the effect that the university technical college will have, but the initiative is seen as a positive one albeit, the jury is out.
Funding for learning
To encourage an interest in engineering as a career and to underline the importance of it to prospective engineers, tuition fees for prospective graduates in qualifying courses should be reduced or abolished. There was a suggestion that some degree courses should attract a premium tuition fee where there is no discernable career path but this suggestion is perhaps beyond the remit of a roundtable.
Persuasive profiling – brand building for UK manufacturing plc
Much of what needs to be done is wrapped up with projecting the manufacturing and engineering sector in as positive a way as possible. Business, government, the education sector and especially the media all have their parts to play but again, this is something that needs to be co-ordinated from the centre. We can certainly learn from places such as Germany, as it is perceived that engineering as a career is held in significantly higher esteem than it is here.
Sector engagement with schools
Business engagement with schools, colleges and universities needs to be stepped up to win hearts and minds and to dispel the ‘dark satanic mills‘ picture, so often still associated with manufacturing and engineering in the UK. This might be easier to achieve if co-ordinated by a regional manufacturing forum facilitating structured contact between schools, colleges and members, but there has to be a framework and funding to help.
University and higher education
Demand-led education needs to be supplemented by a programme of investment in our universities. Creating more demand in our university system for engineering and allied vocational degrees has to be matched with developing and expanding the courses that will produce world-class graduates and post-graduates. The cost of training an engineer is proportionately more than say teaching a history undergraduate. If the job is to be done properly, then workshops and labs have to be outfitted with the most up-to-date equipment and links with local employers need to be forged.
EITB and skills co-ordination
The resurrection of the Engineering Industry Training Board (EITB) is a strong recommendation. The abolition of the EITB was a disaster for the sector. While there are various organisations with notional responsibilities for some of the tasks that the EITB used to undertake, what is needed is a centrally run organisation seeding and overseeing the application of national standards in skills training, especially at apprentice level.
The reintroduction of a training levy would help to fund the resurrection of the EITB and the national programmes it would need to put in place. Funding would also need to be found for training facilities in the FE sector to allow apprentices to be given the basic engineering grounding independently of their workplace. Such training might also be provided by larger businesses that would be able to benefit from reduction in, or even payments from, the levy.