Jaguar Land Rover’s huge recruitment drive is a major shot in the arm for the automotive sector. But does the region now have the skill base to meet the company’s needs, asks John Cranage, Automotive Correspondent.
Jaguar Land Rover said last night it was looking to recruit hundreds of qualified automotive engineers as part of an ambitious programme to develop a new generation of cleaner and more fuel-efficient cars.
While the announcement is undoubtedly a major boost for the West Midlands’ manufacturing sector, the country’s well-publicised shortage of skilled workers raises the question of whether a flagship carmaker may have to recruit some of the engineers it needs from abroad.
It is thought that about 400 of the 600 jobs that JLR aims to create will be for development engineers at its R&D centres at Whitley in Coventry and at Gaydon in Warwickshire.
"This," said Kiran Virk, a policy adviser at Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry, "is further proof that the West Midlands can lead in the field of research and development."
But she went on to say: "We would imagine these new employees will come from within the West Midlands and further afield.
"Those that do come from outside the region will in turn boost the economy and prove it can retain and nurture highly skilled people in the industry.
"This will help reverse the ‘brain drain’ that Birmingham and Solihull have been suffering from in recent years."
Jaguar Land Rover is confident that will be able to attract up to 100 new employees a month between now and the end of the year at salaries starting at £25,000 a year.
"This is probably the biggest single recruitment drive in the history of the two companies and it demonstrates that this is a go-ahead business with a strong future ," a JLR spokesman said.
"It also underlines that we are absolutely serious and determined to bring forward our sustainability projects."
The company did concede, however, that it would have to "spread our net fairly widely" to meet its engineering numbers and did not rule out recruiting abroad.
The problems that confront UK manufacturers when it comes to recruiting the skilled staff they need to compete in the "value added" sector of industry following the shift of mass production to lower cost countries such as China and India are widely recognised.
As recently as April, a report suggested that the West Midlands alone faces a shortage of 85,000 skilled workers.
According to David Wright, chief executive of the Manufacturing Advisory Service in the region, too few graduates and apprentices translate into a widespread lack of engineers, technicians, project managers, designers and researchers.
That’s despite the fact that, according to latest figures, the region is home to 19,000 manufacturing firms that between them employ 362,000 people and generate sales of £45 billion a year.
A month earlier, Liam Byrne, MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill and minister for the West Midlands, launched a Skills Action Plan for the region.
Writing in The Birmingham Post, Mr Byrne said it was "clear that a new age of opportunity in the West Midlands in future depends on investment in skills today".
The region is not only home to some 80 per cent of the UK car industry it is houses the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ Industry Forum, a body dedicated to raising skills levels across the industry.
The Forum’s chief executive, former Rover engineer Graham Broome, could not be contacted last night to discuss the JLR recruitment drive.
But a source familiar with the organisation’s work said: "Although the skills situation has improved as a result of various initiatives, this is a long process.
"Jaguar and Land Rover will probably have to cast their net very wide."