Over the years, UK manufacturing has declined because we are not cost competitive. Consequently, to compete in a global market we have to do something special. We are not going to be cheaper than our global competitors which means that it is vital that we are more technically advanced. Improving productivity and continuing to be innovative are key factors in ensuring we remain at the forefront of technological thinking.
To compete globally, UK manufacturers must embrace apprenticeships to excite and engage the next generation in engineering.
Not everybody is suitable for higher education, when I was going through the school system it was pretty much taken for granted that you did your GCSE’s, moved onto your A levels and then went to university. I would say 95% of my peers at school followed that route; however, this is not always the best path for everyone. This pattern has resulted in 31% of graduates being underemployed according to The Office for National Statistics (ONS), meaning that many graduates either possess more education than required for the job or are in roles that do not use the skills and knowledge developed during their degree. This is why businesses must get involved with apprenticeships in order to create more opportunities for younger people and enable them to experience the appropriate learning journey for them.
UK manufacturers must welcome the apprenticeship initiative that is currently on offer from the government, and ensure they maintain a continual flow of apprentices. Taking on apprentices every year is very important. You will lose some, some will not see the apprenticeship through and others will not get to the standard that you require. On average, we have found that for every three apprentices you may end up with one who will be suitable for taking on the challenges of the future manufacturing landscape.
It is important to provide beneficial learning journeys to your apprentices and to set attainment targets for them. Whilst they will go to college and learn the basics of health and safety and everyday machining techniques, they will not learn the specifics of your particular industry. As businesses, we have sat back for too long and expected to be spoon fed applicants who have the necessary skills, knowledge, and understanding that will make the perfect employees.
Therefore, employers need to be more proactive by engaging with teachers and students in order for them to understand the needs and direction of the business, why it exists, and what is required from them to help the business continually improve. This is just as important as the technical skills the apprentices will learn and will enable them to help the business become better tomorrow than it is today.
Springtelligence is a set of learning journeys that our apprentices go on in order to understand the fundamentals of springs. It covers how to design and manufacture springs, what the company requires, the culture of the company and how we expect them to behave. Once the apprentices have completed this experience, they have a skill set that can take the company forward in the future. Springtelligence is not just an in-house experience for our apprentices, we have a selection of courses for all levels of students from universities, to secondary schools, and even starting with a key stage two course in a primary school. This helps to make more people aware that engineering is an interesting and valuable occupation with a great future.
Apprenticeships will be key to the future growth and success of manufacturing companies in the UK. Companies with ageing staff risk becoming out of touch and unable to compete. If we leave it too late then the mountain will become too big to climb. It is vital we reduce the average age of our work-forces; structured apprenticeship schemes are the first step on the road to achieving this.
We have been running an apprenticeship scheme for several years now, and it is very satisfying to walk around our factory floor and see how the age demographic has decreased. Change is always difficult, and although we have a set of very skilled, highly knowledgeable employees with many years of experience, the input we receive from our apprentices is so important. They are able to offer new ideas and prevent us from getting stuck in our ways, which gives me confidence for the future.