THE 5% CLUB SPEARHEADS INDUSTRY ATTEMPT TO RESOLVE SKILL SHORTAGES
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
27 Aug 14. In two separate commentaries over the next week I will look at how industry is addressing the serious issue of skills shortage through a superb industry based innovation called ‘The 5% Club’ and in the second later piece, using in part BAE Systems innovative design engineering work on the Type 26 Global Combat Ship and which I was able to see for myself in Glasgow last week, how engineering is at long last being turned into a potentially very exciting and potentially very rewarding career.
Here is the first:
The need for more innovation along with the need for the UK to manufacture far more of what we consumes is thankfully no longer a matter of debate but moreover, a clear and indisputable fact. We continue to survive as a trading nation but over the past forty years we have been buying far more than we should from abroad and exporting far too little.
While the Coalition Government has set out some interesting goals that it would like to see achieved, such as doubling our exports by 2020, there is also wide recognition by industry and commerce that to succeed will require not only a ‘can do, will do’ mentality, hard work and much new investment but importantly, a complete change of attitude and approach to how we address what is perhaps the largest obstacle to progress – the skills shortage issue.
Failure to address the now very evident skills shortage issue that the UK has could have very serious ramifications not only in our ability to achieve what the Government has set out to do but could also have a very serious adverse impact on our ability to grow the economy and remain the important trading nation that we are and in the top ten list of international economies. Indeed, it could impact not just on the wealth of the nation but also in our foreign and diplomatic ambitions.
In the various company visits around the UK engineering and manufacturing sector fraternity that I have done over the past year I have been left in absolutely no doubt that addressing the skills shortage issue is by far the most serious challenge we face. The problem, caused by a combination of factors including economic and social attitude change towards manufacturing and engineering, failure of various governments to recognise the importance of investment in research and development funding and the importance of manufacturing to jobs and the economy, the perceived attraction encouraged by past governments of youngsters going to university as opposed to joining apprenticeship schemes on offer, or short term pressures placed on industry by corporate investors and their distaste for manufacturing as a place to invest, on industry for cutting back on employment and training in order to save cost, on the lack of competitiveness caused by industrial disputes, paying ourselves too much, failing to invest and believing that the world would always owe us a living, beliefs that during the during the 1970’s and 1980’s forced so much of UK based engineering and manufacturing to pull down the shutters and close.
The good news is that what industry survived long periods of recession and turmoil during those difficult and harsh times is today leaner and fitter in terms of its ability to compete than perhaps ever before in the lifetime of many. While there is always more room for even improvement suffice to say that the UK is today once again being recognised across the world for the incredible quality of its design engineering expertise and manufacturing and the ability that our industry has to find innovative engineering solutions.
Britain is also a great place for foreign business to invest and because we have failed to properly recognise and reward those engaged in important engineering skills far too many have been poached to work abroad. Thankfully the message of vital importance to retain importa