The skills shortage in manufacturing and engineering is real, urgent and needs tackling now.
That was the overriding message from The Spectator’s Power of Manufacturing forum in London this week.
The event brought together industry giants from BAE, Jaguar Land Rover, Iain Wright MP, chair of the Business, Innovation & Skills Select Committee, industry commentators from UKTI, PwC, The Manufacturing Institute, and a team of new apprentices to discuss the future of manufacturing.
In his keynote address Ian Wright said that it was time to get rid of the “ridiculous, artificial and ludicrous notion” that so-called failures should be pushed towards apprenticeships.
He said that he would know things had changed when middle class families boasted at dinner parties that their son or daughter had secured a BAE apprenticeship.
He added that in Germany there were 40 apprentices for every 1,000 employees, in Switzerland it was 43 and in the UK it was just 6.
Will Butler Adams, CEO of Brompton Bicycles said that the company had grown from 24 to 240 staff making 50,000 bikes a year which were exported to 44 countries – but he was facing a shortage of design and production engineers.
He said: “ I always get outbid by the likes of Dyson and JLR.”
He added that while women spend money on bicycles they were mostly designed by men due to a shortage of women design engineers.
“I think if more people recognise what the industry does we will attract more talent.”
Dr Julie Madigan, Chief Executive of The Manufacturing Institute said that manufacturing would need 800,000 people in the next 10 years just to stand still.
She said: “ We need to have constancy of purpose. We need to keep at it. The skills issue is only going to become bigger. Kids expect to walk in to the bigger companies not the smaller companies who make up the bulk of UK manufacturing.
“We need to promote manufacturing to the rest of the population. “
She added that The Manufacturing Institute’s Make It schools programme had worked with 60,000 teenagers and teachers over the last 10 years and Fab Labs, digital fabrication laboratories brought to the UK by The Manufacturing Institute, were helping to make manufacturing ‘sexy’ for young people.
The session ended with some uplifting stories from apprentices at BAE Systems, Boeing and JLR who had all decided to start working and learning rather than going straight to University – often in the face of pressure from teachers who thought they were making a mistake.
Ending the session chairman Andrew Neil said that he had hosted many similar sessions over the years but had never finished one feeling so positive about the future of manufacturing.