North East business leaders have made a rallying call for the Government to ramp up its support for SME manufacturing and engineering firms in the North East.
Hosted by accountancy firm Tait Walker, the People Agenda roundtable event saw issues such as industry perception, the education experience gap and upskilling of existing workforces take centre stage.
Geoff Ford, chairman of Ford Aerospace and ambassador for North East manufacturing, opened the session with insight into how the business has overcome challenges to create an exemplar in training for people, through its Ford Academy.
He was joined by representatives from Chirton Engineering Ltd, Teesside-based ElringKlinger (GB), Caterpillar Peterlee and Zenith People, alongside members of education and training bodies Gateshead College and Middlesbrough College, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership and Tees Valley Unlimited.
A report outlining key findings and a framework for future manufacturing support will be delivered to local and national bodies, to appeal for combined efforts to help the advancement of the industry in the North East.
Andrew Moorby, managing partner at Tait Walker, said: “It was fantastic to hear all of the different viewpoints and experiences discussed around the table, the skills gap is clearly something our manufacturers feel very passionately about.
“They are taking steps to create their own academies and training facilities to try and fill the workforce void, which is becoming more and more key to this industry.
“Off the back of the roundtable’s report findings, Tait Walker will be trying to push for a combined effort from Government and local SMEs to really focus on how we bring new talent to our regions manufacturing businesses and how we upskill our existing workforce.”
Paul Stewart, managing director of Chirton Engineering Ltd, said the firm is a big advocate of apprenticeships, having adopted an in-house learning scheme for a number of years within its North Tyneside operation.
He said: “The skills shortage is a big issue for us, so work-based learning has formed a large part of our business agenda.
“We have an advanced machine academy set to launch in 2015, however one of the biggest barriers to getting this off the ground is access to funding and investment from Government.
“Without this essential support from Whitehall, our dream to have a ‘conveyer belt of talent’ feeding into the North East’s manufacturing industry hangs in the balance.”
Ian Malcolm, managing director of Redcar-based automotive parts manufacturer Elring-Klinger GB, said: “Recruitment is an ongoing and increasingly worrying issue for the sector.
“Engineering is viewed as a desirable profession across Europe and further afield, yet closer to home the statistics are worrying, with around 60 percent of graduates not actually going on to take up work in the industry.
“This, combined with the sometimes confused and underplayed teaching of engineering as a topic in schools, draws into serious question the current perception of manufacturing as a career choice.
“As industry ambassadors it is our responsibility to work with local education providers to ensure academic application of manufacturing in the real world. The opportunities are many and they are there for the taking.”