Skills shortage 'holding back UK manufacturing'

Tuesday 31 December 2013

The UK's manufacturing sector is being held back by the skills shortage, according to one expert.

Johnathan Dudley, Midlands managing partner and UK head of manufacturing business at Crowe Clark Whitehill accountants, told the Bromsgrove Advertiser that SMEs in particular are facing major challenges at the moment in terms of recruitment and a lack of funding. This is hindering growth and restricting their ability to export.

When it comes to who's to blame for the lack of talent, Mr Dudley points the finger at the government.

"The skills shortage is caused by a generation of politicians and educators focusing on people doing academic degrees rather than science/maths-based ones and a failure to recognise that a viable alternative to a degree is that of on the job training," he told the newspaper.

Consequently, older workers are being incentivised to stay on when they might not want to in order to plug the skills gap. Umbrella contractors are also being forced to step into the breach.

"Education priorities have changed but this initiative is largely very recent and it will take time to roll out," Mr Dudley explained to the Bromsgrove Advertiser.

"Good engineers are at a premium and are being snapped up by original equipment manufacturers who can afford to pay a premium to join what are anyway prestigious employers. This affects all SMEs but is especially notable in manufacturing."

The lack of skills is being felt across the country too and in Wales, Robert Kathro, chief executive officer of Industry Wales, claims more qualified technicians and engineers are desperately needed.

He told Information Daily at the Advanced Engineering event in Birmingham that the skills shortage is having an effect on the manufacturing sector's ability to grow.

There are further challenges ahead for the industry in Wales, too. Jeff Gurr, e-mech specialist at Charcroft Electronics, claims the electronics industry is in decline and to survive companies must become niche.

Cuts in public budgets are also having ramifications for businesses. Peter Lewis, managing director at Industrial Automation and Control, said to Information Daily that the UK manufacturing sector is still struggling to get out of recession and larger projects are difficult to get hold of.

To address the problem, apprenticeships can play an important role. This is often a great way to give a company a stimulus, Mr Lew explained, providing "extra energy to the business as a whole".

Through an apprenticeship it is possible to give youngsters access to the skills needed by the business and train the next generation.

This is one way SMEs can cultivate the talent and confidence they need to grow. This will also enable them to enter the export market.

"SMEs are underperforming in exports and there seems to be a fear factor," Mr Dudley told the Bromsgrove Advertiser. "UKTI assistance needs better communicating and extending.

"Export numbers are the only ones which continue to underperform in what are, otherwise, encouraging economic statistics."

He added that unless the government moves to close the skills gap, the UK will continue to lag behind and economic growth will be held back.

By Victoria McDonnell

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