Jobs are there - we just need the right recruits say North manufacturers

The region's makers are facing a recruitment ‘crunch’ as school leavers and graduates fail to meet the needs of the industry

Apprentices training at BEL Valves, which is seeing its premises expand as part of an £8m investment from parent company British Engines
Apprentices at BEL Valves

Manufacturers in the North East are facing a recruitment ‘crunch’ as school leavers and graduates fail to meet the needs of the industry, a new report says.

Manufacturers’ body EEF said it needs almost a million replacement workers in the next six years but fears that skills of people leaving the region’s schools, colleges and universities are not meeting that demand.

Many of the North East’s manufacturing heavyweights last night called on their colleagues to work more closely with the region’s schools to ensure young people are equipped to cash in on the many job opportunities that occur when thousands of workers retire or leave the industry in the near future.

The region’s manufacturing sector is outperforming other areas of the UK and last year smashed all export records, with more than £13.75bn worth of products sold overseas in the 12 months up to the end of March.

The bulk of the region’s export success can be attributed to manufacturing and engineering, with the region’s automotive industry in Sunderland, offshore sector and process industries playing a leading role.

According to EEF, 66% of manufacturers plan to recruit an engineering graduate in the next three years alone.

But their plans could be scuppered by the limited number of science, maths and engineering students coupled with the number of graduates lacking industry experience and manufacturing knowledge.

As a result, eight in 10 manufacturers want to see colleges and universities improve the employability of students, while 79% want courses to be designed to meet industry needs. Almost three quarters say they want to see universities build stronger relationships with employers.

But manufacturing leaders in the North East last night said it was as much their responsibility, as it was the region’s schools, to ensure that the region trains and sustains a skilled network of future workers.

British Engines chairman Alex Lamb said: “As far as I’m concerned there is a shortage of skilled workers in the manufacturing sector, but that needs to be addressed by companies working with education providers to ensure this message is instilled in our young people.

“There’s no point blaming schools for the situation we are in; we need to work together.

“How are schools supposed to know what we need if we don’t tell them? We want to tell young people there is a solid career for those who have the right qualifications and that message has to be filtered down through the region’s schools, colleges and universities.”

Andrew Hodgson, the man behind Wallsend-based SMD and vice chair of the North East LEP, said one of the region’s biggest challenges is getting businesses properly engaged with school teachers, governors and students.

“We shouldn’t expect educators to understand what all the manufacturing opportunities are up here,” he said. “The career guidance provided by schools is always going to be limited, so it is up to businesses to be proactive.

“Unfortunately, many schools prioritise ‘the good grade’ as opposed to encouraging students to take subjects that are actually required to secure work. Many of these subjects, including maths and physics, are difficult to get a good grade in.

“Businesses do need to work with schools, but equally schools need to understand the benefit of working with us.”

South Tyneside Manufacturing Forum manager Jack Hanwell said schools, colleges and universities have a duty to know which industries are hiring in the region.

He said: “You don’t have to be an expert to know that in terms of manufacturing, things are getting better.

“We need to lift the profile of manufacturing, because with the demise of so many industries on Tyneside, it’s become a bit of a dirty word.”

Andy Tuscher, North East region director at EEF, said: “With UK manufacturing continuing to expand and grow, access to the right skills in the right numbers is ever more important. Businesses are engaging with universities, sponsoring students and hiring graduates, but we need action now if we are to meet expected demand. Decisive steps must be taken if we do not want to see the manufacturing sector increasingly looking outside the UK for talent for fear of otherwise running out of steam.”

The Journal launched the Proud to Back Apprenticeships campaign to keep the North East working and to close the skills gap in the region.

We recognised that companies are already having to turn away business because they don’t have enough skilled personnel to cope with more work, and called for more young workers to be equipped with the skills that the region’s businesses need.

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