MANUFACTURERS need to take a bigger role in attracting young people into the sector to help address skill shortages, it has been claimed.
Some of the leading figures in Yorkshire’s engineering and manufacturing sector said that the onus has to increasingly be on businesses themselves to highlight to schoolchildren the positive benefits that the sector offers in terms of pay, job security and the potential for a long-lasting career.
The claim was made at a roundtable discussion hosted by law firm Womble Bond Dickinson and The Yorkshire Post in Leeds in which numerous leaders in manufacturing voiced the view that schools did very little to promote the sector to young people.
Among those in attendance were Nick Garthwaite, chief executive of Christeyns and Paula Dillon, partner at Womble Bond Dickinson, who serve as presidents of Bradford Chamber of Commerce and Leeds Chamber of Commerce respectively.
Both business leaders pointed towards the success of Bradford Manufacturing Week and Leeds Manufacturing Festival as good examples of business taking direct action to champion the manufacturing sector to young people.
The Bradford initiative alone saw 50 per cent of the city’s secondary schools engaged, 200 work experience days organised in one week, 44 manufacturing companies involved and 2,300 children taking part in classroom activities,
We need increasingly to appeal direct to parents so that they understand the great futures on offer in the sector.Paula Dillon
Ms Dillon said: “You can’t underestimate the impact of these initiatives. People really did engage and it is now just about keeping the noise up. We need increasingly to appeal direct to parents so that they understand the great futures on offer in the sector.”
Mr Garthwaite agreed, and said that similar, larger-scale events were already in the pipeline for 2019.
“The feedback from schools was tremendous,” he said.
“One school wrote to me saying we did more work experience in one week than in previous two years. We cannot blame schools, they are forced to drive students down the route to university.
“I personally believe we have to keep on banging the drum for what we do and the opportunities for young people. There are 25,000 young people set to come out of Bradford schools in the next few years, they will not all go to university. That is our job, manufacturing has to do it for itself.”
Jamie Bentley, chief executive of specialist chemicals firm Stephenson Group in Leeds, added: “It is down to all of us to make this happen.
“We talk about what needs to be done but the reality is that government is not going to do it for us. I think it is down to every individual manufacturing business in their own communities to go to schools and offer STEM advice.”
Beckie Hart, the CBI’s regional director for Yorkshire, said measures were coming in to place that would make it easier for businesses to make contact with schools.
These include the recently introduced Gatsby Benchmarks, which require children to have at least eight touch points with business, and changes from Ofsted which will see them rate the preparedness of pupils for the world of work.
“These have been a long time coming but it should make quite a significant change,” she said.
Elsewhere, June Smith, regional external affairs manager for EEF in Yorkshire, said more work needed to be done with parents and guardians to dispel some of the negative myths around the sector and to highlight the broad range of high tech career options encompassed by the manufacturing field.
Britain is currently ranked ninth in the world in terms of manufacturing output.
However, recent polling showed that the public at large was unaware of the UK’s standing on this score, instead ranking us 56th – the spot occupied by Kazakhstan.
Two thirds of the public think Britain should have aspirations of ranking in the top five nations in terms of manufacturing output.
79 per cent of people believe that the UK Government should do more to support the manufacturing sector.
Yorkshire and Humber accounted for 5.7 per cent of the UK’s manufactured exports in 2015.