How Apprenticeships are Helping to Bridge the Manufacturing Skills Gap

It’s no secret that the UK is suffering from a severe skills shortage in the manufacturing industry. A British Chamber of Commerce survey of 6,000 manufacturing businesses across the country found that, during the final quarter of 2018, 81% of manufacturers had trouble finding the staff with the right qualifications and experience.

And this skills shortage is not a new issue, either. The Engineering Employers’ Federation (EEF) has the vacancies in the sector it deems ‘hard to fill’ standing at 29%, which has barely shifted from where it was in 2013 when it stood at 30%.

The future is not forecast to get any better. With Brexit uncertainty dominating the news, it creates more concern for the future of recruitment. The House of Commons Manufacturing: Statistics and Policy (2018) state that 13% of the manufacturing industry employees is made up of EU nationals, and the EEF found that 79% of manufacturers currently have at least one EU national working in their business.

With such a drastic shortage of needed skilled workers, could apprenticeships be the answer?


Understanding the Skills Gap

The Employer Skills Survey (2017) found that manufacturing has a particular issue with recruitment, citing a 36% skills gap is being caused by an inability to recruit staff with the required skills. Nearly four out of ten manufacturing skills gaps (39%) could be attributed to deficiencies in instructing, teaching or training, higher than the overall average for other sectors. Staff in manufacturing were also found to be lacking in specialist skills or knowledge required to perform their role (56% compared with 47% across all sectors). It also found that 38% of manufacturing companies surveyed had had their operating costs driven up as a result of this shortage.

The problems don’t just persist with current employees, either. EEF found in their research that the quality of candidates applying for a role was also a big issue, with over two-thirds of manufacturers claiming that their applicants lack the necessary technical skills. Additionally, there is a huge disparity when it comes to young people in the industry. Around 40% of manufacturers say that 40% of their workers are over the age of 50, and whilst they are keen to keep hold of these workers with the right skill set, there is certainly a growing need to attract the next generation to eventually take their place.





Apprenticeships Provide Invaluable Skills

The EEF survey highlighted the growing need for talented apprentices to be taken on. Almost three-quarters (72%) of companies are planning to recruit apprentices this year compared to 66% in 2014. In contrast, the number planning to recruit graduates has fallen dramatically to 34% compared to 66% in 2014.

This shift in what employers are looking for can be attributed to the need to ensure those specialist skills are guaranteed for the future. It highlights a vital need to meet the current skills shortages at craft and technical level by bringing in fresh, young talent. With this lack of technical skills continuing to drive recruitment problems, apprenticeships could be the saving grace needed to fix the problem.

Almost half of the manufacturing companies surveyed by EEF expect between 11% – 20% of their workforce to retire in the next decade, so the need for young people to enter into the industry and learn the necessary skills is more important than ever.

Apprenticeships play a pivotal role in preparing the next generation of skilled workers, whilst giving companies the opportunity to strengthen and diversify their workforce. They offer substantial training and the development of transferable skills. The one-to-one mentoring that apprenticeships offer on the job, combined with hands-on experience, not only develops the individual on the apprenticeship but the manufacturing industry as a whole.

Apprenticeships bring a fantastic opportunity for young people and for companies to attract budding new talent. Apprenticeships offer progression and have the potential to develop a motivated, qualified and highly skilled workforce.





Developing the Next Generation

At European Springs, we are a keen supporter of apprenticeships, and we’re committed to doing our part to fix the manufacturing skills shortage by taking on apprentices of our own to address the UK’s productivity gap. Our five new apprentices launched their learning with us back in September 2018; aged 16 – 19, they are studying BTEC level 3 in Engineering Operations and Maintenance with an accompanying NVQ in Mechanical Engineering, which follows the nationally recognised Mechanical Manufacturing Apprenticeship Framework.

Bringing in this new talent from different backgrounds creates a diverse and dynamic workforce, and we hope that they will strive to get the very most out of this experience. Here is what our apprentices had to say about how their time with European Springs has been going:

One of our apprentices said: “I feel very involved with the development stage of manufacturing, and with the expert guidance of my trainers, I feel I am on the right path to a great career in engineering.

Another believes: “I can confidently say I have learned 10x more about engineering doing this apprenticeship than in any other level 3 college course.”

Apprenticeships clearly have the potential to drive up the number of skilled, young workers ready to take over the manufacturing industry as older workers begin to retire. However, the current forecast for apprenticeships across the country is not optimistic. Between the 2017/18 academic year, there were 119,100 fewer apprenticeship starts in England than in 2016/17. Manufacturing and engineering made up 16% of these starts and were down 16,000 apprentices from 2016/17. This fall followed the introduction of a new apprenticeship funding system in May 2017.

It’s clear that more needs to be done. With such a shortage of people with the right skill set, the number of apprenticeships starting each year should be increasing, not declining. For young people looking to kick start their career in manufacturing, an apprenticeship is an ideal way to build the invaluable skills needed with hands-on experience in the industry.

This article was written by Simon Taylor, Sales Manager at European Springs & Pressings, the UK’s largest spring manufacturers with expertise in the manufacturing a wide range of springs, pressings, gas springs and wire forms.

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