Education, skills and training for manufacturing

Education, skills and training for manufacturing

Education, skills and training are crucial for the UK’s advanced manufacturing and engineering sector. Ann Watson, chief executive of employer-led skills organisation Semta, reports on progress in the West Midlands.

What better way was there to start 2015 than with the news Jaguar Land Rover is creating 1,300 new jobs at its Solihull plant to help build the first Jaguar Sport Utility Vehicle? It’s a significant boost to the economy of the West Midlands and the UK as a whole, and I have no doubt it has come about, in part, as a result of innovative work the company has been doing on the skills front.

JLR identified that to grow as a business it needed the supply chain to grow with it. So it developed a programme to drive up its suppliers’ key performance indicators to provide better quality, on time, at the right cost to itself and other car manufacturers.

Those employees taking part are skill-assessed at the start of the programme and tested at the end, where on successful completion they get an opportunity to take further qualifications. The impact is they are better skilled and better prepared to help their own businesses as well as JLR.

The suppliers have seen huge benefit in the programme with vast improvements in the skills, knowledge and behaviours of course attendees. The SMEs taking part have become advocates for it as the programme is rolled out, maintaining the growing momentum and focus of connecting skills development to outstanding performance.

It’s encouraging to see businesses working together to meet training needs. Small enterprises which could not afford to do it on their own are clustering together and working with colleges and the large employers to deliver cost-effective training benefiting them, the individual and the wider sector. But more needs to be done across the sector. In 2014 there were 72,500 job postings for technical engineering related vacancies in the West Midlands. The main concentration was located in Birmingham (21%), Warwickshire (20%), Staffordshire (17%) and Coventry (10%). Impressive statistics yes, but the challenge of filling these vacancies should not be under-estimated.

Between 2015 and 2020 it’s anticipated that there will be a net recruitment requirement for 18,000 people across all occupations into the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector – 3,000 a year – in the West Midlands. And approximately 9,000 will need to be recruited into technical roles.

Semta has also long argued that educators and business need to work closer together to address the skills challenge. When talking to bright, talented youngsters, we hear tales of academic snobbery – career advisers actively obstructing them from taking a vocational qualification and a career in industry. Many are being driven into higher education so schools can simply tick a box to say a pupil has gone to university. Our research shows only 10% of educators feel they know a lot about apprenticeships despite their growth and the stated aim of all the main political parties to have apprenticeships at the heart of our industrial strategy. Only 10% of parents rank apprenticeships as their preferred qualification for their children, despite the fact it can lead to a career path which can provide them with a lifestyle which is better than many of their peers who go to university.

They continue to learn while they earn, with the potential to gain a degree while working, without being burdened with student debt. Of course industry needs the best graduates – far too many of those taking STEM subjects are lost to other sectors of the economy – but we cannot allow the poor advice to supress the ambitions of our young people who can’t or don’t want to go to university. To attract more boys and critically many more girls we need to redress the balance and build a proper skills pipeline.

Semta has been commissioned and funded by The Education and Training Foundation to develop and deliver a project to drive up standards in STEM teaching and training across England. The STEM Alliance brings together further education and industry to develop a higher level of competence, confidence and collaboration in STEM teaching and learning, to inspire and equip the next generation of engineers, scientists and technicians with the skills to succeed.

Key activities will include:

  • Identifying and sharing good practice and the best resources.
  • Delivering workshops and events for new and existing STEM teachers and tutors.
  • Increasing staff entering STEM training programmes and retaining them.
  • Actively engaging with employers, including employer secondment and work placement opportunities for tutors and trainers.

A STEM employer register will be created, with the aim of signing up more than 1,000 employers across England, to provide work-based professional development for STEM teachers and tutors. Time is of the essence and we are looking to companies in the West Midlands, which accounts for 12% of all employment in the UK’s Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering sector, to join us. It is also clear there is a shortage of specialist STEM teachers and tutors.

A recent report by Engineering UK revealed almost a quarter of those in secondary schools teaching maths (23%) and chemistry (24%), and a third teaching physics (34%) have no qualification in the subject beyond A-level. Success in promoting science and maths to young people, and encouraging continued STEM study beyond school, depends on high quality teaching delivered by subject specialists. It is in everyone’s interests that employers and educators create a climate for talent to thrive, whether that be those delivering the knowledge or those learning it, to ensure the West Midlands and the UK has a highly motivated, highly skilled, world class workforce for generations to come.

About Semta

Semta is ‘Engineering Skills for the Future’. Semta is employer-led and responsible for equipping the UK’s vital engineering, science and manufacturing technologies sectors with the skills to compete on the global stage. These sectors are the powerhouse of the economy and their skills and productivity are fundamental to UK recovery and future prosperity.

Semta represents 138,000 companies with a 1.66 million-strong workforce, which generates annual revenues of £309 billion for the UK economy.

The sectors include: aerospace, automotive, composites, electrical, electronics, marine, mechanical, metals, renewables, defence, rail and space sectors.

To contact Semta, go to, or call 0845 643 9001. For more information on how you can get involved in the STEM Alliance email: or visit