Jaguar Land Rover is doubling the size of its new Midland engine plant creating 700 more jobs, exclusively revealed this week. Graeme Brown looks at the road ahead.

Jaguar Land Rover’s plans to expand its Midland engine plant will create jobs for thousands of engineers – but it will be a massive challenge in a region with a notorious shortage of skills.

The car giant revealed this week it would create 1,400 jobs at its new i54 plant in Wolverhampton – 700 more than previously planned – and, with six times that number expected in the supply chain, it is one of the biggest economic boosts to the region for decades.

The news was welcomed by business chiefs and politicians as a major force for much-needed growth in the West Midlands.

But as small businesses already find it hard to recruit young engineers, the creation of hundreds of new jobs at JLR could make a bad situation even worse.

However, Kumar Bhattacharyya, founder of Warwick Manufacturing Group, which trains hundreds of JLR’s managers and future industrialists every year, said work had already begun on finding the right candidates for JLR.

Labour peer Lord Bhattacharyya is an adviser to JLR owner Tata Motors, and said with global growth in car sales the car-maker was likely to deliver more good news for the West Midlands in the medium-term.

He said: “There are a lot of people who talk about skills, but they seem to do very few things about it. A lot of the time people want money.

“Jaguar Land Rover is determined to do it. They haven’t gone and asked the Government for money – they know if they are going to succeed they have to invest.

“There is a huge amount of commitment to training people. If people realised what the company was committed to they would be gobsmacked.”

He added: “They realise, of course, that they aren’t going to get these people overnight so they have already started planning it. There will be a lot of people being trained.

“For example, Warwick Manufacturing Group is hugely involved with the middle management and top management people but it is happening at other levels elsewhere.

“There is a lot of on-the-job training and they have already started working on some of the recruits for Wolverhampton. They are confident that they will be ready for when the plant opens.”

JLR, which is the region’s biggest firm, plans to increase its investment at i54 from the planned £350 million to £500 million, to double capacity.

The Gaydon-based firm made the move a year before the factory is set to open because of soaring global demand for its cars. In 2012, Jaguar Land Rover sold 357,773 vehicles, up 30 per cent.

The existing factory plans are for a plant the size of three football pitches – more than 828,000 sq ft – but if the new plans are permitted, the proposed i54 development will double in size. The first engines are due off the production line in 2015.

Chief executive Dr Ralf Speth said: “Jaguar Land Rover’s new engine manufacturing centre in the UK is a clear demonstration of our business strategy guiding our investment plans.

“Not only does it bring our engine supply back to our production doorstep, but it gives us significant new resource as we continue to innovate with new products and markets.”

In addition, Jaguar Land Rover will invest £2.75 billion in product creation during the year to support its ambitious growth plans that will see the business introduce eight new or refreshed products during the year.

This includes the Jaguar F-Type and the introduction of the world’s first nine-speed gearbox in its Land Rover product line-up.

Meanwhile, industry experts and politicians have widely welcomed the expansion plans, but were united in calling for investment in skills to ensure the company’s supply chain of small and medium size businesses had the right recruits to thrive.

A report commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering late last year found that British industry will need 100,000 new graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects every year until 2020 just to maintain current employment numbers.

However, the UK currently produces only 90,000 STEM graduates a year — including international students who cannot presently obtain work visas — and a quarter of engineering students choose jobs in other sectors.

In total, industry will need 830,000 new science, engineering and technology (SET) professionals and 450,000 SET technicians between now and 2020, researchers said.

MP Peter Luff (Con, Mid Worcestershire), who recently tabled a bill in Parliament aimed at inspiring school-aged children to take up engineering careers, said: “I am sure that Jaguar Land Rover will find the people it needs. This is absolutely first rate news and I am delighted by it. But it highlights the urgency of addressing the engineering shortages.

“I know what will happen is companies in Worcestershire that are looking for engineers will struggle to recruit the people they want even more.

“I am meeting JLR soon to find out what they are doing to train engineering apprentices. I know Rolls-Royce train additional apprentices above their needs for their supply chain. That model is a very attractive one and I am sure JLR are looking at schemes to be a power for good.

“There are problems, but they are problems of success. I am sure being a responsible employer, which they are, and a positive force for the region’s economy, which they are, they will address these issues.”

Adrian Bailey MP (Lab, West Bromwich West), who is chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, welcomed the news, but agreed that greater engineering skills were needed.

“It is fantastic news,” he said. “This really brings hope to the region. It is now for all players within the region to ensure that the potential of this investment is fulfilled.”

Mr Bailey said there were “undoubted issues” when it comes to skills, but he believes local enterprise partnerships and universities in the region have made significant strides in recent years in helping to deliver more would-be engineers.

He said programmes like the High Value Manufacturing Catapult – which sees seven universities working together on manufacturing-related research – played an important role.

However, he believes the Government is not allocating enough money to programmes.

He said: “There is not enough money being put into the process. There is no doubt in my mind that we need more Catapult centres and better funding for the local enterprise partnerships for the research and coordination necessary.”

Rachel Eade, who leads the Manufacturing Advisory Service’s automotive service, added: “This is really fantastic news. It is quite a statement – doubling investment and doubling jobs.”

She added: “The important thing to recognise is it is engine-making, so we are talking about new technology, which is great in terms of taking young people and apprentices into the engine plant to learn the process.

“JLR are developing this technology and it is an ideal opportunity for young people looking for a career in engineering.

“It is a really exciting possibility, but if someone asked ‘are there 1,400 skilled people out there now?’ I would say no, but they are keen to train young people, so it is a huge opportunity.

“Hopefully this will also double the supply chain jobs. Jaguar Land Rover has a commitment to purchase as much as they can from within a 50-mile radius, so now it is about the supply chain being able to provide what they require.”

Richard Halstead, Midland director for manufacturers’ body the EEF, said the move would have a knock on effect to create thousands of jobs in the supply chain.

He said: “It is always better to be creating jobs, but this is a reminder for people in the region that we need to be focusing on skills, starting by encouraging young people in the STEM subjects.”

He added: “In terms of breaking new turf this has to be the biggest news for decades. There has been the expansion of Jaguar Land Rover in Solihull, which has created lots of jobs, and the work around the airport, but in terms of a new plant there hasn’t been anything like this for a long time.”