But after so many years of change and upheaval, perhaps a Statement which was neutral on skills policy and funding, and on industrial planning, was exactly what was needed. That we could find just two tweets in total with the hashtag #SpringStatement and one of #manufacturing, #ukmfg or #engineering before the event perhaps sums up the expectation levels of UK industry, too.
In the case of the engineering sector, we have more than enough to contend with already. The apprenticeship reforms are still bedding in, employers are still making decisions on how they will spend their apprenticeship levy (including, from next month, on transfers to SMEs and their supply chains), T-Levels are in development, the National Retraining Scheme is still being designed, Institutes of Technology are being planned and a wave of new higher education institutions is in consideration.
A couple of things the Chancellor told us helped to make the case for the engineering skills shortage to remain a priority in the government’s thinking. He told us that UK manufacturing is enjoying its longest period of uninterrupted growth for fifty years – and a growing sector needs a growing workforce and an expanded skills base. He told us that a new tech business is established in the UK every hour – and those businesses need the digital, creativity and problem-solving skills which are becoming ever more important to the engineering sector as well. And he told us that three million apprenticeships by 2020 remains a government priority – so let’s make sure those are all in highly-skilled sectors with strong apprenticeship offers like engineering.
And while these changes are being developed and implemented, let’s make sure that we don’t lose sight of the reasons they were dreamed up in the first place. The employer-led system we have to oversee apprenticeships and technical education has been introduced to ensure that employers are able to direct the system so that it delivers the skills they need.
Semta has been behind this from the start, helping employers to design their new apprenticeship standards and working with government to develop the new Engineering and Manufacturing T-Level. We know that now that they’ve been put in the driving seat, employers need a bit of time to work out where they want to go – and that’s why Semta, with our decades of experience and our reputation as an employer-led body, will continue to do what we can to make the system work for advanced manufacturing and engineering.