Schools are failing to encourage children to consider a career in manufacturing - and the economy of the North East may suffer as a result, a major new study has found.
Pupils in Sunderland are not being given the advice they need to make an informed choice about their future career, said think tank IPPR North, with girls in particular failing to consider careers in science, engineering or technology.
Researchers from IPPR North worked with two schools in the city to examine the attitudes of pupils towards a career in manufacturing, and particularly in the automotive sector.
As part of the study, they arranged for pupils to visit Nissan’s factory in Sunderland, and asked them whether this had changed their attitudes towards manufacturing.
The think tank warned: “Employment avenues for young people are not being closed off so much as never being opened. A systemic lack of interaction between schools and businesses is restricting the career options of young people in Britain.”
The failure to interest girls in science, technology, engineering or maths – the so-called STEM subjects – was robbing the sector of potential future employees, said the report.
It warned: “The lack of interest in post-GCSE STEM subjects and vocational education among girls is a cause for concern given that skills shortages in these sectors are looming.”
IPPR focused on the automotive sector because of its importance to the economy of the North East – and it said there is “evidence to suggest the automotive sector would continue to grow in the coming years”, making it even more significant. Around 1.5 million cars and commercial vehicles and three million engines are produced annually in the UK, and 70% of vehicles manufactured here are exported.
Nissan’s plant in Washington is Europe’s most productive car manufacturing site, responsible for one in three of all cars produced in the UK.
However, the think tank warned that manufacturers were concerned about the lack of available skilled labour in the UK, which could limit future investment in the country.
It also pointed out that “pay tends to be significantly higher for graduate engineers than for most other graduates”, but young people considering their future career were not aware of this.
The study warned: “Given the importance of both good careers advice and business-school interaction in shaping the choices that young people make, it is essential that Government, schools and businesses take action to plug future skills gaps and change the perceptions of those who might potentially be attracted towards careers in the automotive industry, and in engineering more widely.”
The UK automotive sector employs more than 737,000 people and thousands more apprentices across the country.
But the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which represents the industry, says firms are suffering from a lack of skilled workers.
A spokesman for Semta – which represents 128,000 companies in the manufacturing and engineering sector said: “This is sad news – but very much in keeping with our experience. A recent survey from the IAC (Industry Apprentice Council) showed a mere 17% of apprentices in manufacturing received advice from careers advisers or teachers about entering the sector via apprenticeships – many were actively discouraged to do so.
“We aim to bridge the gap between education and industry – which will be vital for the future prosperity of this country.
“Whilst unemployment remains relatively high – yet order books are brimming - it is a travesty that some manufacturers still struggle to recruit qualified staff.”
Sunderland City Council did not respond to requests for comment.