It's National Apprenticeship Week from today until 8 March – EU Automation’s Jonathan Wilkins highlights the benefits of training schemes for the manufacturing industry...
Britain’s manufacturing sector is thriving. According to the Office of National Statistics the sector employs 2.6 million people, accounts for 44 per cent of total exports and represents 70 per cent of business research and development (R&D).
The ONS attributes sustained growth in the sector to better quality, a more skilled workforce, a shift in production from low to high productivity goods, improvement in automation and technology, increased investment in R&D and a more integrated global economy.
The skills dilemma
However, the manufacturing sector has a big problem — a drastic skills shortage of up to 124,000 engineers and technicians with core engineering skills per year. As well as employing graduate-level engineers, hiring apprentices is a fantastic way to plug this gap. Employing an apprentice means that the manufacturer can train the new member of staff to have the exact skills required for their future career.
TheManufacturer’s 2018 Annual Report found that 63 per cent of UK CEOs see the potential apprenticeships offer in helping them to grow their workforce while developing the skills the business needs.
A celebration of skills
National Apprenticeship Week is designed to celebrate the impact of apprenticeships on individuals, employers and the economy. This year’s event also coincides with National Careers Week, and on March 8, with International Women’s Day.
Talking about NAW and this year’s theme, the skills minister Anne Milton said, “I want everyone to recognise the change that apprenticeships can bring — for employers blazing a trail to new markets, for apprentices to new career opportunities and for colleges and training providers raising the skills levels for everyone.”
While apprenticeships have traditionally been regarded as the lesser option compared with going to university, apprentices are essential to engineering and manufacturing businesses.
Manufacturers and engineers can help to smash the stereotypes, encouraging more young people to consider engineering roles and perceive an apprenticeship as a valuable route
to consider engineering roles and perceive an apprenticeship as a valuable route
According to the EEF, 79 per cent of manufacturers were committed to recruiting engineering apprentices in 2016 and three quarters of manufacturers say all their apprentices stay with the company on completion of their apprenticeship.
At EU Automation, we are also reaping the rewards of apprenticeships. Ashley Hills, an apprentice at EU Automation said:
“An apprenticeship is a gateway to starting a career. If you have a choice between doing an apprenticeship or doing a degree in the same subject, always choose the apprenticeship. You’ll get to grow with a company and have valuable work experience at the end of your education.”
Encouragingly, The Manufacturer’s annual report in 2018 found that its respondents, by a margin of 3 to 1, believe that apprenticeships are finally gaining respect as an alternative to university.
At the moment, the challenge is that small businesses are finding it hard to make it work for them. While encouragingly, over 129,000 people started engineering related apprenticeships across England, Scotland and Wales in 2017 according to Engineering UK, this is not enough to meet the national skills shortage.
To tackle our skills shortage, we should take advantage of events like NAW to promote the value of apprentices and the career opportunities they offer. As an industry, manufacturers and engineers can help to smash the stereotypes, encouraging more young people to consider engineering roles and importantly, perceive an apprenticeship as a valuable route into those careers.