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Why we should be upskilling our workforce

skills

Philip Whiteman, chief executive of sector skills council Semta discusses why science, engineering and manufacturing businesses should be upskilling their workforce and incorporating apprenticeships into their business plan.
Despite being back in recession, the UK still has one of the world's major manufacturing industries, contributing £140bn a year to the economy and over half of all UK exports.
To maintain the UK's global position and the economic and social benefits that brings, we need to secure the sector's future through skills development.
Semta research reveals the industry will need to recruit 82,000 scientists, engineers and technologists across the UK by 2016, to take advantage of growth opportunities and reduce the impact of skills lost through retirements. And there is a huge need to upskill as around 363,000 of the current workforce are qualified below world-class standards.
 
"To maintain the UK's global position and the economic and social benefits that brings, we need to secure the [manufacturing] sector's future through skills development."
The upskilling requirement includes over 160,000 crafts people and technicians so the government is on the right track with apprenticeships, one of the few areas where public funding is still available to support development and an ideal way to train new recruits and upskill the technical workforce.  
However only 11% of companies in engineering and manufacturing offer apprenticeships. So Semta is tackling the barriers to apprenticeship recruitment, particularly among SMEs.
To combat the increasing need for higher level skills to support higher value added manufacturing, Semta teamed up with leading employers and the National Apprenticeship Service to launch the Apprentice Ambition – a 10 point plan designed to take the number of advanced and higher level apprenticeship registrations from 8,000 to 16,000 by 2016 and making it easier to take on an apprentice.
Among the breakthrough activities is the launch of the not-for-profit Semta Apprenticeship Service which manages the whole process for an employer, from advertising the role, assessing training needs, and filtering high calibre applicants to securing funding, working with recognised training providers and monitoring programme quality.
And imminent plans for the introduction of Higher Apprenticeships (up to degree equivalent) are paving the way for more higher level technical skills that are crucial for job creation and growth in this key sector. With new government funding, Semta has worked with employers, colleges and universities to develop a higher level apprenticeship in advanced manufacturing. Available at levels 4 and 6 and incorporating an HNC, an HND, a foundation degree or an honours degree, the framework includes off-the-job training, work-based learning and functional skills that build over three to five years and provide a route to professional accreditation.
The higher level apprenticeship in advanced manufacturing will give employers, particularly SMEs, something they really need and encourage more apprenticeship starts.
 
"...businesses who fail to invest in workforce skills will struggle to capitalise on the growth opportunities that recovery will bring."
Apprenticeships, of course, are not the only solution. Semta is tackling other skills priorities with a range of cost-effective training solutions developed with business to meet employer needs. These range from elearning to the total outsourcing of skills management. The menu also includes the latest skills diagnostics, strategic workforce planning, development of training plans, finding available funding and quality providers, and advising on employing a graduate or developing supply chain capability. In particular programmes are available to upskill managers and professionals, to introduce business improvement techniques and support for bespoke technical training.
Overall the message to employers is clear: it might be tempting to batten down the hatches and reduce training budgets as the recession bites, but businesses who fail to invest in workforce skills will struggle to capitalise on the growth opportunities that recovery will bring.
Philip Whiteman is chief executive of Semta, the Sector Skills Council (SSC) for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies. In his role, his priority is to improve employer engagement in training, helping businesses in Semta sectors understand the vital role that skills have in an organisations success

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