The recent Budget announcements saw Chancellor George Osborne put supporting the growth of British business at the top of the agenda. In his speech, the Chancellor described this year’s Budget as ‘unashamedly backing business’, outlining measures such as easing access to funding and encouraging businesses to seek growth opportunities through exports.
However, the challenge that businesses have in meeting their growth potential is not simply an issue of access to finance: At Semta, we know that having the right skills within an organisation is a crucial factor in achieving growth plans. Our research shows an anticipated need within our sectors to recruit an additional 82,000 scientists, engineers and technologists between now and 2016, so the argument for skills is clear.
The great news is that work is underway to help businesses meet the skills challenges of tomorrow. The education landscape is changing and, as the focus moves to the creation of more high level skills, the lines between higher education and further education are, to some extent, being blurred so that students can develop the skills employers are crying out for without paying high university tuition fees.
How? The government recently announced the creation of 20,000 undergraduate ‘margin’ places, in an attempt specifically designed to encourage low-cost alternatives to traditional universities. Universities and colleges charging less than £7,500 on average were able to bid for the new places of which more than half (10,354) were awarded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to further education colleges.
And that’s not all: Further education colleges up and down the country continue to grow both in importance and relevance when it comes to nurturing and developing the talent businesses in advanced manufacturing and engineering.
Over the past year or so, there has been an increased political and business focus on the value of apprenticeships, and their role in delivering the skills that we need to strengthen the economy and compete on an international level. Indeed, the government announced the creation of 50,000 new apprenticeship places just last year.
High quality apprenticeships – like those in engineering – play a crucial role in both upskilling the current workforce and developing new recruits. A fifth of employers in our sectors are reporting skills shortages – the majority of them in technical areas - and nearly a third of high tech manufacturing firms admit to recruiting from outside the UK due to a lack of suitably qualified residents.
High quality engineering apprenticeships form part of the sustainable solution – particularly higher level apprenticeships. We are currently finalising the framework for a new high level advanced manufacturing apprenticeship which will offer candidates the opportunity to train to degree level while also earning a competitive salary.
We know that employers are looking for young people who can combine knowledge and skill. By working with leading employers including Airbus, BAE Systems, Ford, GKN, Jaguar Land Rover, Rolls-Royce and Siemens, the new framework will develop candidates over a three to five year higher apprenticeship, so they can learn the practical side while working their way towards professional accreditation.
And the bids are in for the next tranche of Higher Apprenticeship Fund money, which will see a specific focus on areas including aerospace, land-based engineering, space, utilities and energy and renewable technology. As before, this second round of funding will help bring clear and achievable ladders of progression for apprentices into existence, tailored to the needs of economically important sectors.
Our challenge is to continue to work with employers and educationalists to provide sustainable skills solutions, helping businesses to navigate the complicated skills landscape. In doing so, we plan to encourage more SMEs to implement apprenticeship programmes – increasing the number from just 11 per cent of employers recruiting apprentices currently to 20 per cent by 2016.
To support this, Semta launched a not-for-profit Apprenticeship Service where we manage the whole process - from advertising a role, assessing specific training needs, and filtering high calibre applicants to securing funding, working with a recognised training provider and ensuring the quality of the programme.
Philip Whiteman is chief executive of Semta, the Sector Skills Council