Manufacturing experts in South Tyneside are warning that a skills gap must be addressed and a mind-set of under-investment in apprentices changed if the demands of modern world markets are to be met.
The South Tyneside Manufacturing Forum (STMF) – the North East’s leading sector grouping – says industry risks being unable to provide enough adequately qualified workers unless decisive action is taken.
Ahead of its May monthly meeting, it is urging businesses, schools and the Government to work together to defuse what it calls a ‘demographic ticking time-bomb’ that could impact on the future North East economic output.
The meeting will feature input on the issue from South Tyneside College, the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), recruitment firm Zenith People, Sunderland Engineering Training Association (SETA), and South Tyneside Council.
STMF manager Jack Hanwell insisted steps were needed to make manufacturing an exciting career prospect for schoolchildren and some employers needed to change their views on employing apprentices.
He warned that some continued to look upon apprentices as an expense, when research had revealed they canrecoup their costs to their company after just six months.
Mr Hanwell added: “The meeting will map out the problems surrounding the skills gap. There is a demographic ticking time-bomb ahead.
“The three recognised responses to the problem of skills shortages are for businesses to employ more, increase engagement with schools, and to develop the existing workforce, including multi-skilling.
“The consequences of not doing anything will be a loss of orders and a reliance of skilled workers from overseas, which will ultimately be more expensive.
“We need to invest in youth but also help multi-skill those already working in manufacturing.”
His comments come a week after powerful national manufacturers’ body EEF said the North East was facing a recruitment ‘crunch’, with school leavers and graduates failing to meet the needs of the industry.
It claimed almost a million replacement workers are needed over the next six years to replace people retiring, but warned the skills of those leaving the region’s schools, colleges and universities were below standard.
At the STMF meeting, being held from noon to 2pm on Wednesday, May 21st at its base within the £5.4m One Trinity Green enterprise centre in Eldon Street, South Shields, Zenith People is expected to reveal figures showing the scale of the skills gap problem.
The college will speak of its apprenticeship programmes, SETA on developing the existing workforce, the NAS on Government policy, and South Tyneside Council on the pathways from schools to work.
The STMF provides a platform for members to share knowledge and best practice to create business growth, success and opportunities.
Members share best practice in key business areas including lean manufacturing, supply chain, marketing, sales, human resource, finance and the environment, while working collaboratively to reduce the costs of services and materials.
Other aims include promoting the importance of a healthy workforce, to collaborate with education establishments to prepare young people for a career in manufacturing, and to establish manufacturing as an attractive and rewarding career choice for young people.
To book a place, or for more information about the STMF, contact firstname.lastname@example.org