Published – The Manufacturing Magazine
Businesses across the country and in all sectors are recruiting – but do manufacturing companies prefer graduates or apprenticeships?
We may be seeing a shift, Ruari McCallion reports. It is very good news that the UK economy is picking up sufficiently that employers in all sectors are seeking to hire more staff – it has been a recruitment-free recovery for some time. But what sort of people are they seeking to take on? For the past 20 years, education and training strategy has been focused on boosting the numbers of graduates and youngsters generally have been directed towards university for their post-18 training. Are the country’s employers ‘ SMEs especially’ content with this? Straws in the wind indicate that the answer is not entirely.
A report published in July from Sandler Training, a business consultancy service, used data from a survey of over 1000 SMEs. It indicated found that academic qualifications are losing out to practical skills, which, the report claimed: can deliver more tangible effects on a business. The research found SMEs splitting their preference for filling entry-level positions 51-49% in favour of those taking the vocational path, a trend expected to continue. Those companies surveyed said that they expected to be increasing their apprenticeship hiring by 20% in five years time but boosting graduate recruitment by only seven per cent.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) ninth annual Engineering and Technology: Skills & Demand in Industry report, published at the end of July, found that more than half of employers are having difficulties recruiting the staff they need. Around 40% of the respondents said they had difficulty recruiting engineering graduates and technicians and almost 80% said that it was hard to find senior personnel, those with five to 10 years experience. But less than one-fifth reported issues with recruiting apprentices.
Whether the UK is falling out of love with academic training is an issue perhaps more suitable for debate by those working within the sector itself,â€ said Andrew Cooksley, managing director of ACT, the largest training provider in Wales. What we do know, as vocational study providers, is there has undoubtedly been a rise in the number of people looking towards the type of practical training roles offered by apprenticeships. The interest is particularly noticeable in engineering and manufacturing, where the number completing ACT apprenticeships has risen by over 38%. He suggests that the trend might be driven by employers looking for hard skills over pure academic qualifications.
For us in the electrical engineering sector, there is often a lack of practical knowledge from graduates and a lack of theoretical knowledge from apprentices, which is a difficult balance to achieve, said Mark Beswick, managing director of R&B Switchgear Group, a specialist engineering company with customers in sectors ranging from nuclear power and transport to petrochemical, defence, aerospace and other industries. He suggests that a growing economy gives employers the opportunity to invest more in training and to look at different ways of recruiting. He started as an apprentice himself.
Money no object?