More manufacturers in the West Midlands must address their employees’ skills needs if they are to remain competitive in the marketplace, a review by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) has concluded.
With almost half of all regional manufacturing vacancies proving hard to fill because of skills shortages, the Government’s flagship Train to Gain programme is proving a vital tool in driving up the area’s workforce skills.
Advisers are working with manufacturers to identify training needs within their companies to ensure those investing in new machinery have the right skills on board to maximise its potential and that managers are qualified to market their goods to the supply chain.
Barry Knights, regional skills brokerage manager at Business Link in the West Midlands, said: “Train to Gain is not just about NVQs. We can offer training of all kinds, including specially tailored courses, such as Business Improvement Techniques and Performing Manufacturing Operations all designed to keep manufacturers competitive.
“We carry out a full needs analysis with every company we visit and the diagnostic tool helps to identify individual skills gaps and training needs.” Dave Barry, HR manager for Birmingham-based engineering company Brandauer, said Train to Gain had proved valuable to his business after it embarked upon a major lean manufacturing initiative a few years ago.
The company, which employs 78 people in its precision tool-making and metal presswork facility, implemented the programme to help it to meet world class standards.
“We have come a long way since our origins nearly 150 years ago when we manufactured pen nibs,” he said.
“We have had to diversify our operations over the years into many different sectors, including plumbing and medical supplies, and it was fundamental that the right standard of training was implemented to help us diversify and improve our turnover by 40 per cent since 2005.”
The company’s training plans were given the Government seal of approval earlier this year when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, visited to see for himself how the company was faring.
“We are now the leading specialist in our field and many of our employees have completed NVQ courses, including Business Improvement Techniques, Technical Services and Performing Manufacturing Operations via the Train to Gain initiative,” added Mr Barry.
“As a lean SME we cannot easily release people for off site training so we appreciated the fact that the trainer could come to us, and also that the training was supported by appropriate funding.”
The recent LSC review of education and training in the West Midlands manufacturing sector showed that, although manufacturing is of key importance to the regional economy, 40 per cent of those employed in it are not qualified to Level 2 and 77 per cent of companies with recruitment difficulties cite problems in attracting applicants with the right skills.
About 36,000 people are employed in manufacturing in the region generating almost 20 per cent of Gross Value Added (GVA). Although employment in the sector is expected to fall in terms of actual levels, due to high replacement demand there will be a net requirement of 88,000 jobs between 2004 and 2014.
“Over recent years manufacturing in the West Midlands has had to face increasing competition from overseas, leading to a reduction in the number of lower skilled jobs being filled overseas where wage rates are a fraction of the UK’s,” continued Mr Barry.
“The challenge now is to compete in areas of product design, research and development in highly skilled production industries.” The majority of firms in the sector recognise that training and skills are crucial to the future of manufacturing and this has led to a shift in demand from NVQ Level 2 to NVQ Levels 3, 4 and 5. Train to Gain, which was introduced to enable employers to access financially supported training for staff up to the first Level 2 qualification, is driving forward improvements and helping to raise skill levels.
There are 24 providers in the West Midlands, the largest being Telford College of Arts and Technology and Stoke-on-Trent College.
Ten of the institutions – Burton College, City College Birmingham, City of Wolverhampton College, Herefordshire Group Training Association, Midland Group Training Services, More Training, Newcastle-under-Lyme College, Sutton Coldfield College, Telford College of Arts and Technology and Warwickshire College – have achieved CoVE (Centre of Vocational Excellence) status for manufacturing provision.