Staffordshire digger maker JCB is considering shifting highly-skilled jobs to India or China because managers have found it impossible to recruit engineers in this country.
David Bell, chief corporate development officer at JCB, said the firm had been a “victim” of an education system which provided potential employees with “rubbish” qualifications – and revealed the business had no fewer than 57 vacancies which it simply couldn’t fill.
And he criticised Government proposals to focus on a new English Baccalaureate benchmark, warning it was “potentially damaging” for manufacturers.
Mr Bell painted a gloomy picture of the challenges facing West Midlands manufacturers when he spoke in Westminster at a Commons committee hearing, as MPs held an inquiry into the Baccalaureate plans.
He warned that the firm needed skilled engineers to design the energy-efficient engines and vehicles demanded by its customers, and might be forced to shift development programmes overseas if it could not recruit staff here.
Education Secretary Michael Gove is considering scrapping the traditional measure of success for GCSE students, based on whether they achieved five GCSEs at grades A to C including maths and English.
Instead, pupils would be judged on whether they have achieved at least a C grade in English, maths, two sciences, either history or geography, and a language. Those that make the grade would be said to have gained the English Baccalaureate, although they would still study for GCSEs rather than a new qualification.
Mr Gove has argued that the change would help employers by ensuring students study a wider range of challenging subjects.
But Mr Bell warned the Commons Education Committee that the Government’s plan would fail to encourage students to learn the technical skills employers urgently need.
Schools would focus on the subjects included in the Baccalaureate – and may neglect those that were excluded, including engineering and technology, he said.
Mr Bell said: “We need high-level people to be apprentices. We have 57 engineering vacancies.
“We could employ more people, but I don’t think the English Baccalaureate will help us do that . . . it doesn’t help a manufacturing company in terms of the qualifications we are looking for to take people on.”
JCB needed “bright engineers” to design vehicles that meet EU standards for carbon emissions, he said.
“We have to design challenging things for the future, and we need people with skills.
“Right now we have 57 vacancies. We are looking at putting programmes – honestly – in India and China, because what is the point of doing a programme here if we can’t get engineers?”
Some local authorities have suggested the Government should introduce a second benchmark called a Technical Baccalaureate, which would include design and technology qualifications.
But Mr Bell warned that this might be seen as a second-class qualification, and called instead for technical skills to be included in the English Baccalaureate.
He said the Baccalaureate as it stands “is potentially damaging for the needs of rebalancing the economy, if we value engineering and manufacturing”.
And he also slammed the existing qualifications system, in which certain BTEC or NVQ qualifications were said to be the equivalent of a GCSE at grades C or above, known officially as a level two qualification.
He said: “We all want children to come out with proper qualifications that have rigour.
“I have been the victim at work of the so-called level two qualifications provided by training advisers.
“They are a load of rubbish. We know they’re not level two. I want some proper qualifications that have rigour.”
The use of the English Baccalaureate has been controversial, with head teachers complaining that the Government has moved the goalposts without warning by judging them on new criteria.
In Birmingham, 78 per cent of pupils gained five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C last year. But just 13.6 per cent of pupils in the city achieved the English Baccalaureate.