Published on June 3rd, 2016 | by WMG Editor

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Building the skills

Professor Lord Bhattacharyya, Chairman and founder of WMG, University of Warwick talks to the NewStatesman about ‘Building the skills.’ 

If you measure business success by newspaper headlines, you’d get the sense British manufacturing is uncompetitive and underperforming. The reality is very different. Our manufacturing industry employs two and a half million people. It’s a forward thinking sector too – paying for almost 75% of business innovation.

Manufacturing is the most export intensive part of our economy, so success demands high productivity and outstanding products. You need a skilled, motivated workforce to do well, which is why manufacturing jobs pay the average employee £4,000 a year more than the service sector.

What’s more, attracting talented people to manufacturing is not just crucial to the success of one part of Britain, it’s vital to the growth of the whole country.

For example, Dan Dicker left his job as a highly skilled product designer at Dyson to start Cornwall-based ashortwalk in 2003. Today, they employ seven people, and use waste plastic plant pots as the source material for elegant home and garden products.

To help firms like Dan’s we must address the critical shortage in UK skills. As the engineers and technicians trained in the 60s and 70s retire, we need to attract talented young people to manufacturing and give them the skills to succeed.

We must make manufacturing careers attractive to people of all genders and backgrounds. That requires a transformation of Science, Technology, Education and Maths education, and big cultural changes in manufacturing itself.

Industry-education partnership is crucial, whether at school, through University Technical Colleges, in vocational skills, where the apprenticeship levy will help firms develop their new employees, or inspiring future leaders at university.

Employers have to see that every potential employee deserves the chance to develop skills. Too often, firms have wasted talent by defining people by their status, not their potential.

This is changing. Nearly half of respondents to a recent CIPD survey are developing their staff. Sponsoring professional qualifications or ‘up-skilling’ employees through NVQs and part-time degrees is increasingly common.

Giving employees a chance to earn high-value qualifications means employers can guarantee new recruits will get the transferable skills needed across their whole industry. For an apprentice that means they can earn while learning, avoid student debt and get a head start in their career.

I’ve seen this first hand in the Jaguar Land Rover Academy for Lifelong Learning.

The Academy integrates every level of training from first-year apprentice to Doctoral dissertation into one structure, open to all staff. For example, higher apprentices can earn an engineering degree from the University of Warwick through WMG’s Applied Engineering Programme.

The JLR Academy also gives those apprentices the chance to do a Doctorate during their career. They’ll know such qualifications are really valued, not least because their CEO, Ralf Speth, earned his Doctorate that way.

A major skills programme works well for larger employers, but what about the backbone of the economy, the small and medium sized firm?

At WMG, we work with many SMEs who want to develop their staff, but can only offer high-value qualifications when they know the abilities their staff will develop in future are worth the cost of losing them for part of the week now.

Politicians of all parties now talk about the importance of apprenticeships, but ultimately if manufacturers are to back their people, they need government to help with the cost, and the skills learned to be truly worthwhile.

Business and government must work together to give every employee a chance to develop new skills and build better careers through quality education. That way, Manufacturers in Britain can improve productivity, advance innovation and ultimately, increase their profits.

For more information on WMG’s education programmes visit: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/wmg/about/educationprofile/

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