A recent meeting of the Manufacturing, Engineering and Technology Alliance (METALL #10) saw some lively debate between manufacturing businesses, education professionals from FE and HE and local business support organisations as they searched for solutions to the long-standing difficulty of recruiting into the engineering sector nationally.
In the South, the recent MHA Manufacturing & Engineering Report revealed that 89% of companies were finding it difficult to recruit enough people with the right talent and skills to fill existing job vacancies.
Guests were welcomed to the event at the University of Chichester's new Engineering and Technology Campus in Bognor by former engineer Chris Coopey, who is a Partner and Practice Director at MHA Carpenter Box. Chris then handed over to the event facilitator, Richard Freeman, CEO of East Sussex-based company, always possible.
Richard highlighted that the speed of technological change is starting to challenge our ability to keep up with it, with big data, AI, robotics and a whole host of other technology currently reshaping our lives at tremendous speed as we move forward in the 4th Industrial Revolution.
One in five jobs in the UK are linked to the sector and despite the fact that our region is not nationally recognised as a hotbed of manufacturing and engineering, West Sussex manufacturing and engineering companies added £307.4m to the UK economy, which may come as a surprise to many.
So, what's the answer?
Delegates at the METALL #10 event were quick to raise ideas and suggestions. One of the conclusions was that business and education needs to work more closely together to help students realise the many rewarding careers that the sector offers. In particular, more work needs to be done to attract many more female students to take STEM A levels and to go on to take degree apprenticeships or undergraduate degrees in Engineering.
More work needs to be undertaken with schools, possibly through school governors, to encourage wider interest in STEM subjects from an earlier age. Head teachers from junior, primary and secondary schools also need to be involved and school leavers should be made aware that the manufacturing industry offers a career path and not just a job. T-Levels may help in this, but they are some way off.
One particularly interesting fact to emerge was the potential to retrain older workers from other sectors (such as retail) to take some of the many roles available. This is something that bears further research and action at national level.
Chris Coopey commented: "As I expected, there was some very lively debate at the event, and I was delighted to see the level of participation from the audience. It was very clear from the discussions that there are many issues to overcome. My view is that the Government still has no real idea about the value and potential of the sector, which means that local action has to be taken.
We will be organising a focus group off the back of this METALL meeting to take some of the ideas forward which we hope will help businesses to meet their skills needs."
METALL is supported by MHA Carpenter Box chartered accountants, solicitors asb law and sector recruitment professionals, CBSbutler. It was launched in 2016 with the primary aim of sharing best practice across Manufacturing, Engineering and Technology businesses.