Guest blog by Semta board member and Chair of the Automotive Industrial Partnership, Jo Lopes, Jaguar Land Rover
My career with Jaguar Land Rover to date has been both long and rewarding. By contrast, my time on the Semta Board has been comparatively short, but nonetheless incredibly interesting. It's an exciting time to be part of the team helping to steer Semta's future direction. I firmly believe it is the collaboration within our multi-disciplinary team that makes it effective, just as it is the partnership approach that Semta takes with industry, education and government that enables it to successfully support the sector.
Having joined Jaguar Land Rover as a graduate in 1989, I've witnessed many changes in the automotive industry, not least in the range and level of skills the sector demands. The transition from a largely mechanical skillset to a focus on software, electronics and mechatronics has occurred at unprecedented pace.
National Apprenticeship Week is with us once again and I was delighted to be asked to contribute to the national debate. My article in the Independent on Sunday supplement yesterday was a fantastic opportunity to shine a light on Apprenticeships within our sector and hold them up as rigorous and rewarding routes to career success. The engineering and advanced manufacturing sector has always led the way in Apprenticeship development and delivery and can, I believe, act as an exemplar of quality to other sectors.
I hope that the time will come – and in the not too distant future – when we can cease to have the parity of esteem conversation. But for the moment, it is important to keep pushing this message to young people, parents, teachers and other influencers. This is why I was gratified to hear the recent announcement from Education Secretary Nicky Morgan on introducing legislation to outlaw academic 'snobbery' and ensure pupils and students can make informed choices.
Huge thanks to everyone who attended the Semta Skills Awards on Wednesday and made it such a resounding success. The previous two years took some beating, but I think everyone will agree that's just what we achieved. The effort from our marketing and communications team over the last six months certainly paid off.
It was fantastic to be surrounded by so many people with a collective passion for British engineering. We have much to be proud of and that was very evident last night. Hearing the finalists' stories was so inspiring and the industry judging panel had some very tough decisions when selecting their winners. All the finalists deserve recognition, we receive hundreds of applications and to make it to the last 27 they should be immensely proud which is why I'm delighted that we've now introduced the Highly Commended certificate to acknowledge their achievements.
As a relatively recent addition to the Semta board, I'm delighted to have this opportunity to introduce myself and talk a bit about the current engineering skills landscape. Semta's aims and aspirations are very close to my heart and I'm pleased to be in a position to help support and steer the organisation forward.
I've held a range of learning and development positions over the years and with Siemens, have been lucky enough to travel the world. Seeing other vocational education systems in action is fascinating. While this has inevitably led to comparisons with the UK, I'm inclined to think these comparisons are unhelpful. I've always been particularly vexed by the assertion that we should be emulating the German model. I have sound reasons for this opinion, but should perhaps explain my skills credentials first.
At its heart, Semta is an employer organisation. We exist to serve the skills needs of industry and ensure UK plc has the skilled workforce it needs to grow and thrive. Our employer-focused credentials are exemplified by our Board. We're fortunate to have the expertise of a range of top industrialists from some of the country's leading organisations to call upon.
Despite the ever more complex nature of the skills landscape, we work hard to decipher and influence skills policy for the benefit of the sector and are kept grounded in operational reality by the employers at our core and the employers we work with.
There are only a few days left to nominate for the Semta Skills Awards 2016, so get your entry in by 30 November to be part of THE event of the engineering awards calendar!
Our Awards' host, the BBC's Steph McGovern, is adding her call for nominations – watch now.
Ensuring the sector has the skills it needs to thrive now and in the future relies on the commitment of individuals and organisations to skills development. We know this commitment is prevalent across our sector and that's what the Semta Skills Awards seek to recognise and reward.
I was delighted to attend The Skills Show last week where the WorldSkills UK finals were taking place. The talented individuals that were competing to be the best of the best in their chosen discipline never fail to impress. They demonstrate a level of enthusiasm and commitment that is genuinely inspiring. I certainly hope that this proved to be the case for the 80,000 visitors that came through the NEC's doors over the four day period.
Semta is the organising partner for 11 engineering categories in which more than 130 finalists were competing for their place in Squad UK.
Work experience is a win-win for both young people and employers. Young people get an invaluable insight into potential careers and the world of work. Employers can promote their exciting career opportunities and identify future talent for their organisation.
The fact that so many employers (42%) cite difficulties in recruiting people with the right STEM skills means every opportunity to enthuse the next generation and secure the future STEM talent pipeline should be welcomed. It is in this vein that Semta has launched The STEM Experience.
You and your colleagues work hard day in, day out. The pressure of getting the job done is ever present. But I'd encourage you to step back for a moment, reflect on your achievements and have your efforts recognised by entering the 2016 Semta Skills Awards.
The Awards celebrate the 'Best of British Engineering, shining a spotlight on those individuals and companies that make this sector such an exciting and dynamic place to work. This is about recognising a significant commitment to skills development, whether it's your own company or your training partner, a skills champion within your organisation or your talented apprentices and graduates that have seized the opportunity for self-development. I would urge as many of you as possible to put yourself, your colleagues or your company forward for an award. Take a look at the eight categories here.
It's A Level results day, and the pleasing headline news from an engineering skills point of view is that the number of young people going to university to study Engineering is up 9% year on year.
However, at the time of writing, there were still 228 Engineering degree courses with places available through Clearing – some of them at prestigious Russell Group universities like Manchester and Warwick. We need to ask why so many engineering courses remain unfilled given that this is a record-breaking year for acceptances, with over 400,000 young people so far being offered places at university.
Be proud people – be mightily proud.
Forget the Olympics or The World Cup Finals, THE most important international competition of all is about to begin in Brazil.
Team UK – the crème de la crème of young apprentices – leaves today for Sao Paulo (Friday 7th August) to do battle with the world's best.
Semta plays a pivotal part in selecting the very best young engineers that this country has to offer by running the exhaustive competition process – which has taken the team from National Finals in Birmingham all the way to Brazil.
In my last blog piece, I warned that there were a number of unanswered questions surrounding the government's planned apprenticeship levy on large employers. While there do remain a number of unanswered questions, I am pleased that we have started to see a little bit of clarity coming from the government regarding some of the finer details of this policy – although some of the answers provided lead to further questions.
We now know that leftover levy funds will not be diverted to support small, medium and large enterprises (SMEs); SMEs will instead be supported through the new digital voucher system. Nor will they be used for any other sectoral benefit. We know, too, that there will be no cap on the number of apprentices that large employers can recruit and train. When considered together, this really heightens the risk that the levy system will make it more difficult for SMEs to recruit the apprentices they need, and makes it more likely that some will need to rely on former apprentices of large employers who may not have the right skills and expertise for their particular needs.
Two weeks on from the announcement in the Budget of an apprenticeship levy, there are many questions which need to be answered by the government. Employers in the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector need to be able to plan ahead if they are to meet their own skills needs, and if they do not adequately understand the ramifications of this policy ahead of its introduction they will find it difficult to do that planning.
We still don’t know whether the levy will apply in England only, in England and Wales, or in all four of the UK nations. If it is to apply across all four nations, we don’t know how it will be collected and distributed; if the UK government takes it upon itself to distribute the cash, there will be obvious knock-on effects to the apprenticeship policies already laid out by the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If it only applies in England, meanwhile, we don’t know whether employers will be able to claim from the fund for their apprentices in other UK nations.
Before the Budget, Semta cautioned a further cut to the further education budget on the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector. In the end no such cut announced in the speech itself or in the Treasury's Red Book. However, there was one surprise announcement that could have a real impact for our sector and which, at first glance, seems to be more applicable to other sectors than to our own: the apprenticeship levy on large employers.
Large employers in advanced manufacturing and engineering already understand the value of apprentices and invest huge amounts of time and money in their programmes. I know from experience that captains of industry see their apprentices as loyal, enthusiastic and capable. In fact many of them like our own Chairman started their careers as apprentices. They don't need to be incentivised to take on apprentices with a levy, because they already see apprentices as the way to grow their own talent. That's why BAE Systems, for example, has pledged to take on 710 apprentices this year (a new record for the company); it's why 30% of Rolls Royce's senior management team started out with the company as apprentices; it's why Airbus was the first company, back in 1998, to introduce a Higher Apprenticeship. It's thanks to companies like these that while just 10% of the whole UK workforce has completed an apprenticeship, 26% of those in advanced manufacturing and engineering have done so.
Next Wednesday's 'Emergency' Budget has been widely speculated and commented on; commentators and politicians all have their own views on what will and will not be included, and what the impact of the changes that are and aren't included will be.
We already know that, under the flag of deficit reduction, the government will be making a further £450m cut to the budget of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and a similar cut to the Department for Education budget – cuts which, when combined with the target of three million new apprenticeships during this Parliament, could have severe repercussions for all non-apprenticeship and school-related skills funding.
Today is National Women in Engineering Day, and the response from across the world of engineering has been hugely encouraging and positive. So many companies - big and small - are holding events, publicising their support on social media and showcasing the talented women they have working for them.
We are starting from a low base, with just 7% of the engineering workforce being female, but even here there are grounds for optimism, with that representing a 10% rise since 2011 – and the more women we start to see entering and returning to the sector, the more inspired to consider a career in engineering other girls and women will be. Encouragingly, over half of pupils taking Physics at GCSE are female – but with only around a fifth of A Level Physics students being female, it's clear that more needs to be done to encourage girls with an aptitude for and interest in science and engineering to progress.
You may have missed it as it came on a Sunday, but yesterday (14 June) the government made a policy announcement on apprenticeships with potentially major ramifications for employers across all sectors of the economy, and especially for those in the advanced manufacturing and engineering (AME) sector which Semta represents.
The term 'apprenticeship' is to be protected in law and apprenticeships are to be given 'equal' treatment to degrees. What that equal treatment will look like in practice, we will have to wait and see as the government rolls out the Enterprise Bill in which this provision will be written.
The government's commitment to 3 million new Apprenticeship starts by 2020 must be applauded. Despite very few MPs having started out as apprentices, there appears to be a groundswell of parliamentary support and a clear recognition that Apprenticeships provide employers with a route to meeting their skills' needs and offer young people a route to career success, progression and reward.
While this commitment is to be welcomed, focusing solely on hitting a numerical target could have unintended consequences – i.e. a reduction in quality. We know from the figures over the last two academic years that the number of Apprenticeship starts dropped significantly following the introduction of a minimum 12 month duration. It could be argued that a simple way to reverse the decline in the number of starts would be to reduce the minimum duration.
Short Apprenticeships and/or those without a recognised qualification or formal assessment points could help ensure the target is met, but where does this really get us? These 'sub-standard' Apprenticeships are unlikely to meet the needs of employers or young people, and serve to devalue the Apprenticeship programmes that are genuinely robust.
With May 7th now looming large on the horizon, the election campaign has really sprung into life. Politicians have been pounding the pavements and taking to the airwaves to deliver their messages, and the parties have launched manifestos setting out their vision for what our country will look like if they are in the new government.
At Semta, we also have a vision for the next five years. Our new Skills Vision document sets out the agenda that we, and employers in the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector, would like to see the next government pursuing on skills.
We will be launching our Skills Vision as soon as the next government is formed, because the next government will need to hit the ground running if it is to meet the skills challenges in our sector. From day one we will be ready and willing to work with the next government, whichever parties it might be comprised of and whichever politicians are given ministerial boxes, to ensure that our sector has a workforce with the mix of skills it needs to thrive.
The coming general election is one of the most open in recent times, and nobody can quite be sure what the make-up of the Commons is going to look like come 8 May. That’s why it’s heartening that all three of the major parties – Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats – are making positive noises about engineering and manufacturing. All three are also signed up to a further expansion of apprenticeships, which will help to give employers the confidence to invest in them.