Manufacturing industry says more should be done to promote apprenticeships

Denis Smith and apprentices with MD Clive Porter at Darron-SBO in Rotherham.
Denis Smith and apprentices with MD Clive Porter at Darron-SBO in Rotherham.
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MANUFACTURING BUSINESSES say more must be done to promote alternative career routes to youngsters.

It comes as business secretary Vince Cable announced a rise in minimum pay for 16 and 17-year-old apprentices, aimed at boosting wages for 31,000 apprentices and making the scheme more attractive to schoolleavers.

Figures from the Department of Business, Industry and Skills (BIS) show a slow rise in the number of manufacturing apprenticeships started in the region in recent years.

A total of 7,560 apprenticeships were in engineering and manufacturing technologies were started in 2012/2013, compared to 7,300 in 2007/2008. More than 868,000 people participated in apprenticeships in total across all regions and sectors last year.

Industry and education institutions in the region are now working together to drive up the number and quality of youngsters entering manufacturing, as the sector faces “the grey cliff” skills challenge.

Darron SBO head of quality control Denis Smith said: “The industry globally is facing difficulties as skilled workers retire and there’s no-one there to replace them.

“We’re putting significant investment into training and, when we find good engineers, making sure we keep them.”

The company produces equipment primarily used in deep-sea oil and gas operations. Of its 120 employees at its Rotherham site, 17 are apprentices.

Darron SBO is one of a number of manufacturers in South Yorkshire that has partnered with the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) Training Centre, which provides employer-sponsored training in a fully-equipped workshop setting.

Mr Smith says more should be done at school level to promote alternative routes to a career.

He said: “It seems university is the ultimate goal for everybody, whereas in engineering you can get more consistency of learning from a manual apprenticeship.”

DFS head of manufacturing Harvey Ellis, who is responsible for its factories in Adwick-le-Street, Alfreton and Long Eaton, said many young people “seem to not want to work in factories”.

He said: “It is a bit of a downside. It’s certainly not a dark art: it’s a good job, it’s a secure job, and having a skill is great.”

The company offers apprenticeships in upholstery, as well as providing entry-level jobs across cutting and sewing. It also invests heavily in training and progression for its employees.

DFS is working with local schools to promote opportunities in the company and is “always supportive” of government initiatives to attract the next generation into manufacturing.

Mr Ellis said: “It’s a career, it’s not just a job.”

In Sheffield, the Company of Cutlers has launched a scheme working with schools to provide teenagers with an insight into the options available.

Its Made in Sheffield Passport to Employment initiative provides a two-year course of work skills training, in conjunction with Sheffield City Councils and nine local schools.

Outgoing Master Cutler Tony Pedder said the scheme was launched due to concerns young people did not have the right skills to join the workforce.

More than 100 13 to 15-year-olds have completed the programme to date, with double the number expected to graduate in the next group. Other sectors, including health, are now participating in the scheme.

As the government and political parties continue to show interest in rebalancing the economy away from a heavily services sector-led structure, industry estimates suggest one in five youngsters will need to enter the engineering to sustain growth, he said. However, Mr Peddder said he is optimistic about the industry’s ability to attract talent.

He said: “The tide is turning. It’s about encouraging more apprenticeships, getting universities involved, it’s the whole tone that whatever route you take, there are opportunities for a career in manufacturing.”

Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership said it is supporting skills development after securing its £320m Growth Deal in July.

Between 5,000 and 7,500 apprenticeships will be funded through a £120m Skills Bank for the City Region.