Chief Exec’s report Jun 19

Encouraging Forward Thinking For Skills

Spring in Scotland is now well under way, and it’s a significant time for us at Scottish Engineering as we celebrated our annual award winners just a few short weeks ago.

If spring is our best chance in the year for optimism, then our award winners did not disappoint, and we saw the range of excellence running from laser photonics through large scale high value metal manufacturing to mass volume drinks production. A tremendous range and diversity of engineering, with fantastic examples of strategic focus on improvement, investment and skills growth. Congratulations to all our award recipients, with a special mention for our overall winner, J&D Pierce (Contracts), whose mix of astonishing growth in business, infrastructure and skills captured the attention of our judging panel.

Given that skills remain the number one conversation we have with industry, it’s not surprising that all of our award winners stood out for their commitment and approach to training and skills, with engagement in local education long before the hiring process begins. We have remarked before that our future supply of talent faces several challenges:

  • A currently historically low unemployment rate
  • An aging workforce with low training rates in the age group following
  • Competition for STEM candidates from other sectors and industry
  • A projection of decreasing net migration, exacerbated by Brexit impacts

This quarter we asked members to share their plans for apprenticeship places in the next twelve months and mid-term timeframe, and encouragingly all areas show a planned increase. A healthy 47% of respondents plan an overall increase across all three streams of apprenticeships over the next three to five years, a level that underlines how seriously companies are taking the need to secure future skills. In the shorter term, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Modern Apprentice programme shows the most planned growth in the next twelve months, with over 43% of companies indicating plans for increased intake. The newer apprenticeship programmes for Foundation and Graduate streams showed lower increases of 16% and 21% respectively, and from that I think we can conclude that whilst the increase is welcome, we still have work to do to convince industry of the value of these work-based learning initiatives.

If we were giving ourselves a report card, let’s be generous and say we give ourselves a ‘B’, what next to drive this in right direction?

Well, if we start with supply of candidates, a continued theme in almost every forum and voiced by industry leaders is the need to concentrate our STEM resource in fewer and more effective projects – a ‘less is more’ approach. This will require compromise and some of us will have to stop what we currently do to join other programmes, but if we want a different outcome, choices like these will need to be made.

Looking beyond that, our survey asked employers what factors restricted their plans to increase the numbers of training places, and the most common answer highlighted a lack of training resource and time within smaller organisations to do justice to the training of more young people. With no magic wands that’s not easy to fix, but it is something we can look at with the agencies who support industry in Scotland to seek a solution.

And finally, we need to press the UK government to look again at the content of their Immigration policy proposal to take into account the differing needs of Scotland within the UK. The last thing that our manufacturing industry need is wider pressure across labour supply as a whole, whether that be for skilled engineering and technician roles, or just as importantly the operator group where we enjoy significant levels of EU nationals in our workplaces.

For our back page view this quarter, I am pleased to note we have a contribution from a friend of Scottish Engineering, Paul Nelson, who fulfilled our role as Employer Auditor whilst working at member company Allied Vehicles. Paul is now helping Scottish Autism, an organisation that reminds us of the value that employees on the Autism spectrum bring to all aspects of working life, in some cases particularly for engineering and manufacturing.

Paul Sheerin
Chief Executive
Scottish Engineering