The new apprenticeship levy could help address the skills gap in the UK, argues Penny Hydraulics’ general manager Jess Penny
If you work within the UK’s engineering and manufacturing sector, you’ll be well aware of the industry’s current skills shortage. Without a pool of top-quality talent to draw from, businesses of all sizes within the sector are struggling to expand due to them not being able to find the right talent to progress. What’s more, with the very real possibility of the free movement of labour coming to an end through the UK’s exit from the EU, it’s never been more important for the country to invest in home grown talent.
Why the UK is suffering a skills shortage
Unfortunately, the UK skills shortage is not an easy problem to solve. Part of the problem comes from the way that STEM subjects are taught in our schools. While most students are aware that a solid understanding of maths and science can help lead to a good job, they currently aren’t shown just how expertise in these subjects can lead to a diverse and interesting career.
Moreover, the UK has a serious diversity problem within the STEM fields, with women, ethnic minorities, and the working class being significantly underrepresented in industries such as manufacturing and engineering. This not only means that a vast pool of potential talent is unavailable to these industries, but also that they are missing out on the many benefits that come from a more diverse workforce.
Another very real issue with the way that STEM subjects are taught comes from the fact that much of what is taught all the way through university level is out of date before it reaches the classroom, due to unprecedented pace at which new technologies are changing the manufacturing industry. This leaves graduates with outdated skills, affecting their employability and only making the UK’s skills shortage worse.
How the apprenticeship levy will help reduce the skills gap
Given the problems with the way the skills young people need to succeed in a career within the manufacturing industry are taught in college and university, apprenticeships have always been a great way of developing home grown talent to fill the skills gap. On-the-job training under an experienced mentor is arguably the best way to learn the specific skills required for the workplace.
In April 2017, the government will be introducing an apprenticeship levy that will require all employers operating within the UK, with a payroll of over £3m per annum to spend 0.5% of their total wage bill on apprenticeships. This is being put into place to improve both the quantity and quality of UK apprenticeships.
This levy is set to help close the UK’s skills gap and help our faltering manufacturing industry compete with the world’s other nations, as it will encourage employers to take a leap of faith and take on developing fresh talent. While this isn’t going to solve all of the manufacturing industry’s problems, the influx of thousands more apprentices each year is sure to have a positive impact on the industry.
Why employers need to make careers in the sector more inviting
While the apprenticeship levy is set to encourage employers to develop more young talent, this doesn’t absolve the UK’s manufacturing companies of all responsibility for the future of the sector. In order to attract the kind of talent that will secure their future in the global marketplace, businesses need to do their bit to get students interested in the manufacturing sector from a young age.
The way the sector is portrayed in the media is also going to have a big impact on its future. As an industry, we need to move away from the image of a man in oil-stained overalls and instead focus on the range of diverse roles that this career path can lead to. Organising partnerships with local schools and visits to your facilities where students can witness the kind of jobs they can expect to enjoy within the industry will go a long way to changing opinions on the sector for the next generation of talent.