Chief Exec’s report Dec 18

Skills Snobbery is a Wasted Opportunity

Welcome to Scottish Engineering’s final Quarterly Report for 2018, and as we write, it’s the time of year when wish lists are being written, and decisions are to be made on good behaviour or otherwise. With the political shenanigans currently never ending, I fear there will be a lot of coal in the stockings of our elected representatives this December. Those like me who expected clarity on our future relationship with Europe long before now, can surely now with confidence say: definitely next year.

So, while that uncertainty continues, lets return then to the second most popular topic our members have raised this year, skills and labour capacity in general. Last week it was reported that unemployment fell yet again in Scotland to 3.8%, and as evidenced in this report export and domestic orders continue to remain strong at least into the beginning of next year. There is no doubt that the first negative signs of Brexit have been felt by companies losing EU nationals from their workforce as they avoid uncertainty or the effects of weak Sterling and return home. Just to cap this picture, those employees moving from company to company on average can expect to receive 3 times the salary increase of those staying with their current employer. All these factors have placed a squeeze on companies having the labour resource they need, and companies report that difficulties to recruit are not just in skilled roles but extends to operator roles too.

At the risk of sounding unnecessarily downbeat, a further concern occurs to me. Industry 4.0 is here, and companies across the board are now implementing workstreams to make sense of the vast amounts of useful data being collected. Data driven innovation is active and increasing now, and manufacturing and engineering are not the only sectors that need these skills. In fact, the concern is that the growing demand for the people with the necessary skillset to train for these roles will inevitably come from the same ‘pot’ as we currently have, and that already is not enough to meet demand.

The solution must be a bigger ‘pot’ and one way to do that is changing the way we think about work-based learning, for which the entry point in Scotland is our Foundation Apprentice (FA) programme. Here S5 and S6 pupils undertake a mix of school, college and workplace-based learning, and on completion will hold a qualification equivalent to Higher grade, with a pathway to work, modern or graduate apprenticeship, or Further Higher Education.

So, what’s the problem? To put it bluntly, as a society we seem to hold a view that looks down on FA’s as the lowest rung of the ladder and are missing an opportunity as a result. FA’s give us the ability to engage early and steer young people into Engineering, and crucially allow us to capture the attention of young people where school for whatever reason doesn’t click for them but the world of work does. Many of us are or know colleagues who became excellent engineers, with less than stellar school exam results. Right now, modern apprentice and graduate routes leave those future talents behind and that’s a dreadful waste that we can’t afford. If that doesn’t convince you, look outward to Germany, a manufacturing and engineering example of best practice, where in 2015 the calculated share of population starting an apprenticeship was 52%, compared to less than 10% of school leavers in Scotland for the same period. As a final point to underline here, can I add Scottish Engineering’s congratulations to 18-year-old Fraser Wallace who this month was named Scotland’s Apprentice of the Year. Fraser was one of the first young people in the country to complete a Foundation Apprenticeship with Ayrshire College alongside work placements at aviation experts GE Caledonian, and having already impressed is now enrolled in a Modern Apprenticeship, with no doubt a bright future ahead.

Paul Sheerin
Chief Executive
Scottish Engineering