Business chief calls for investment in apprenticeships

Semta’s UK chief executive Sarah Sillars OBE warns SMES who are not investing in skilling-up their current workforce that they risk losing out to competitors

Semta’s UK chief executive Sarah Sillars OBE
Semta’s UK chief executive Sarah Sillars OBE

There has been a great deal of work and focus this year on the urgent need to increase the number of apprentices and graduates in advanced manufacturing and engineering.

While there is still a very long way to go, the situation is improving, but it is equally important that this recruitment drive doesn’t see the current workforce being left behind as new technology and processes are introduced.

Businesses who fail to address the skills issue face serious consequences – perhaps even forcing them out of business – as competitors from both home and abroad up their game

Major employers in the UK aerospace, automotive, defence and marine industries have been working with Semta to bring together their supply chain companies to advise them on what skills and technologies investments will be required for growth.

The Transforming Skills and Productivity of Supply Chain project runs until the end of March next year. By then, around 20,000 SME supply chain businesses in our sector will have reached or be well on their way to world-class standard, with 25,000 employees having enhanced skills.

We are holding workshops, events and engaging directly with businesses on a one-to-one basis to raise awareness of what is on offer.

Almost £2m of funding from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, matched by employers, will help 1,000 companies begin their High Performance journey, and has seen the development of a tailored Capabilities and Skills Growth Assessment model, to be delivered to 2,200 supply chain companies, which will compare a firm’s existing capability against what is needed to deliver its future growth ambition, with particular focus on adoption and exploitation of new technologies.

The project should lead to an increasing number of parts being sourced in the UK rather than overseas, will increase the sector’s GVA (Gross Value Added) from 15% to 20%, provide initial research into what financial support is required to drive SME investment in training exploring the benefits of an Enterprise Funding Model offering an “up front” loan or National Insurance/tax holiday or refund, and potentially create 10,000 new jobs.

There are a number of firms who have engaged with us and seen big benefits – Ford Component Manufacturing Ltd is one you can read about here.


Semta is responsible for engineering skills for the future of the UK’s most advanced sectors.

Led by employers, its job is to transform the skills and productivity of the people who power our engineering, science and manufacturing technologies sectors, enabling UK industry to compete on the global stage.

It brings together employers and education to focus action on skills. Our employer-skills solutions and pan-industry initiatives help equip people at all levels of the workforce with vital skills and attract the best new entrants to create the highly skilled, dynamic workforce needed to re-energise UK industry and drive its future success.


business Ford Component Manufacturing sees home-grown skills and talent as vital to its future success.

It was formed in 1910 by Robert Ford – whose grandson Geoff chairs the company today, with great-grandson Chris as the financial director – and has a proud history of employing people on Tyneside.

So when looking for a graduate they turned to Semta to help support them through the process – with an emphasis on finding someone studying in the North East.

“It was an excellent experience,” said Chris. “Semta sent us a number of CVs as well as putting us in touch with both Newcastle and Sunderland University’s career advisory service.

“As a result we picked nine graduates for interview – the standard was exceptionally high and made it a very tricky decision.”

Craig Wilde was appointed as IT support technician having completed a BSc (Hons) in computing science from Sunderland University. Under the scheme, Ford receives £1,000 towards the cost of employing a graduate from Semta, in addition to a six-month salary subsidy from Sunderland University. “The graduate offer was the tipping point between recruiting or otherwise,” said Chris. “We wanted to bring someone in with no pre-conceptions of the business and to train them up.

“It is always a risk taking on someone without a lot of work experience, especially for SMEs.

“Semta made the process much easier than it would otherwise have been, leading to a choice from high-calibre candidates. They were always available to handle questions and queries and we will be looking to them to help with the recruitment and development of future graduates and trainees.”

Ford Component Manufacturing is an award-winning company specialising in the precision machining and pressing of components for the aerospace, defence and industrial market.

It has two sites in South Shields and one in North Shields and a workforce of 160.

In 2013, it surpassed £11m of sales for the first time, including £2m in exports, setting itself a target of £15m by 2016.


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