Engineering chief tackles Government over skills

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ONE of the Government’s flagship policies to boost economic growth through manufacturing has been criticised by a world-leading engineering firm, which warned Ministers to stop chasing headlines and focus on industry needs.

The Government hopes manufacturing will drive the recovery from recession and plan to create thousands of new apprentices by cutting red tape.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling yesterday visited Airedale International Air Conditioning in Rawdon near Leeds and said Whitehall was working to create “the right environment for business to grow”.

He admitted it would not be possible for British companies to compete with Chinese and Russian mass producers, believing the future was “high end, niche technologies”.

However Airedale bosses claimed the Government’s scheme did precisely the opposite – providing large numbers of apprentices without the specialist skills required.

Airedale has invested £250,000 in its own training centre and has 16 apprentices selected by colleges and universities, rather than taking those who were Government trained.

Managing director Clive Parkman said: “The focus needs to be on those companies that are borderline profitable. We can make decisions here because we are successful, so we can invest in a training centre. If I was not making money I couldn’t afford that £250,000 investment, and therefore we wouldn’t be here today, and we wouldn’t have 16 apprentices. We might have one or two, but certainly not 16.

“For me, Government needs to get more focused on what it’s doing. Not just go for the headline figures all the time.”

Training school manager Adrian Trevelyan said: “If you look at the Government figure, it’s one million apprentices is the headline. You are not going to get to that sort of number unless you are offering very large general courses.

“It is all about getting numbers, getting people through to hit the figure – that is not going to industry and saying what does industry need? The focus is all around numbers, not specialist skills.”

Mr Grayling promised to take the concerns back to Government colleagues and said they would listen to the needs of employers but still backed the apprenticeships programme.

The Government is already under pressure over its economic plan and the Yorkshire Post has launched our Fair Deal campaign, calling for end of years of chronic under-investment in the region.

Last week a damning report from PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed 17,000 jobs in the public sector in Yorkshire had “vanished” in the 12 months up to June this year, warning there is now a significant chance of a double dip recession.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has admitted policies such as the £1bn Regional Growth Fund have been slow to fill the void left by cuts, after it was claimed only two companies had so far received cash from the scheme.

But Mr Grayling defiantly backed the Coalition’s policy, saying he was confident the private sector “would take up the slack” and denying there was a dangerous gap between the massive cuts in public sector jobs and private company recruitment.

“If you look at our data 275,000 people have moved to work in the private sector and the drop in the public sector has been smaller,” he said. “I am confident that if we create the right environment for business confidence, the private sector can take up the slack created by the drop in the public sector.

“The Regional Growth Fund is there to support business, that is a really important part of what we do – it is happening as fast as it can do.”

High hopes for youth jobs

THE Government hopes its apprenticeship scheme will ease the growing pressure caused by rising youth unemployment.

Figures released this month showed the number of unemployed young people had reached a record high, with half of 16 to 24-year-olds out of work.

There are now nearly a million young people not in education, employment or training, according to the Office of National Statistics – the highest figure since comparable records started in 1992.

Skills Minister John Hayes has announced a package of red-tape cutting measures to make it easier to take on large numbers of apprentices, such as simplified payment and assessment requirements.