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Monday, 23 October 2017 00:00

We can use the apprenticeship levy to boost supply chain skills

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Mark StewartGuest Blog by Mark Stewart, HR Director and Country Manager at Airbus UK

Take it from me – large engineering employers like Airbus want to do their bit to help the wider sector to meet its skills needs. Most of the engineering workforce is actually with small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro-sized companies – so if we’re going to solve the skills challenges we have, we need to have solutions in place which work for those companies as well as those like Airbus. The apprenticeship levy offers a great opportunity to do just that.

The engineering sector as a whole can, and must, meet our skills needs, because our contribution to UK GDP is going to be needed in future by a globally trading Britain which faces stiff competition from overseas. Half of the workforce is set to reach retirement age by the middle of next decade, but we need those who remain to be fully competent in the processes and techniques that the engineering workplace of the future will demand they perform.


And that’s where the apprenticeship levy comes in. It can be used to upskill existing workers of all ages – apprentices no longer need to be young and fresh to the business. We in engineering don’t tend to bring in additional recruits as apprentices who we don’t expect to need once they have completed their training – it would be prohibitively expensive and it would not sit well in a sector that has always taken its wider social responsibilities seriously. So we aren’t going to suddenly start recruiting lots of new apprentices just to use up our levy vouchers. What we are looking at is how our vouchers can be used to help us secure the new digital skills we need in the future.

The levy can be used to support existing programmes and we at Airbus are already doing this with much success. We’ve always had an adult apprenticeship programme and we are always keen to offer our workers opportunities to progress, all the way from unskilled to skilled level and beyond – or to move from non-engineering roles into engineering ones. We want to offer our people career paths and opportunities to develop their skills – it’s good for the individual and it’s good for Airbus, helping to build a more skilled and more committed workforce.

But it’s not just Airbus that needs to have a skilled workforce if we’re to fulfil our orders for new aeroplanes – we need our suppliers to have the right skills mix too. We’ve been working with our second-tier supply chain, through the SC21 initiative, to spread good practice through regional clusters. We’re working to encourage our supply chain to make the very most of its levy too, including non-typical suppliers, such as suppliers of temporary labour. The government continues to engage with industry to scope out how transfer of levy funds between employers might work, and we eagerly await the outcome of that consultation process – we certainly have the appetite to help out our suppliers wherever we can, and we want to ensure that the apprenticeship funding generated by the levy paid by Airbus stays within aerospace and the wider engineering sector.

If we’re going to make supply chain funding work for aerospace and the wider engineering sector, then we need to make sure that any opportunities we are able to offer our suppliers are pragmatic and simple to access. They cannot be bureaucratic or cumbersome. As it stands, some large engineering employers may need to take on staff just to manage the transfer of their levy funds. They have the wherewithal and the funds to do that, but smaller employers don’t. But whatever the final system looks like, we at Airbus will keep doing as much as we can to secure the skills pipeline of our supply chain through the apprenticeship levy – and I would encourage other large engineering enterprises to do the same, because without SMEs, there won’t be much of the engineering sector left.

Airbus, of course, is just one employer with one supply chain. The engineering sector needs to be able to reach as many SMEs and micro-sized employers as possible if we’re to continue to contribute the 12% of gross value added to the UK economy that we currently do. That’s where Semta comes in – as an employer-led skills champion, it works with employers large and small to help them to meet their skills needs. You’re not alone – if you need help with securing your pipeline of skills, get in touch with them today.

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