Supporting UK manufacturing skills in a post COVID-19 world

3 min read

By Floriane Fidegnon, Head of Industry, Technology and Innovation, Policy Connect

As we emerge from the pandemic, it has never been clearer that manufacturing as a sector must ensure it has the correct skills in its workforce to tackle the pressing challenges of net zero and digitalisation.

Over the past few months the All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group (APMG) has been working with the ERA Foundation to understand better what government’s immediate priorities must be to ensure it effectively supports the sector’s post-pandemic recovery. Our key conclusions are that local areas needs autonomy of funding and decision-making to deliver the skills needed in each locality, drawing on strong business-education partnerships and driving forward diversity and equality objectives.

As a working engineer, I saw first-hand the efforts companies made to continue meeting consumer demand during a time where supply chains were frozen, EU trading regulations had become even more complex and factory floor headcounts had to be reduced. The past year has not been easy, and I applaud the extreme efforts of the industry to continue operating as best as they can, whilst ensuing the workplace is safe and compliant.

Now, attitudes to work are changing again. We see manufacturing businesses wanting to become more agile, more appealing to workers and more able to respond to the needs of their consumers and staff. ONS estimates that 2.7 million people are employed in manufacturing[1], making it the 6th largest employer in the UK - however this figure does not take into account the vast number of jobs manufacturing indirectly creates across the supply chain. With such a large workforce, it is vital that the skills landscape can keep pace with the changing sector it accompanies. In the coming years, as the sector works to become carbon neutral and digitalised, there will be challenges in staff retention, upskilling and reskilling to ensure the workforce is well equipped for this transformation.

What is needed from government and key departments? Our call for government support

In our latest report ‘Supporting UK manufacturing skills in a post covid-19 world’ the APMG calls for government action in three areas:

  • More partnerships between employers and education providers across school, further, higher and tertiary education systems, to enable businesses to feed into curricula and shape the skills need in their local areas;
  • Greater funding and autonomy for local regions to address their skills shortage; and
  • Clear diversity and equality objectives to ensure a diverse and representative manufacturing workforce.

Throughout the inquiry we discovered fantastic examples of skills education providers partnering with businesses across the sector. The consensus amongst contributors was that government must be committed to tackling the manufacturing skills problem head on; should give local governing bodies greater authority; and must invest funding for specialised and high quality apprenticeships.

We heard from manufacturers that apprenticeship levies were hugely welcomed and supported SMEs in particular to be able to employ young people and train them; however, we also heard that this process can often be time consuming, expensive and bureaucratic. T-levels are set to increase apprentice numbers further, but industry must work with government to tackle the challenges of creating short term placements in highly regulated environments, amongst other issues. There is a strong desire from policymakers to make this work; as an industry, it is key we make clear and actionable policy asks of government to ensure we achieve our common goal – a fit for purpose manufacturing workforce.

We also discussed how to create a more diverse and inclusive manufacturing sector, hearing from experts from the Athena Swan forum, The Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers and Engineering UK. It was acknowledged that the sector must hold itself accountable, and work with government to put in place better monitoring and evaluation methods.

To understand the recommendations and rationale in full, read the report on our website.

Looking ahead, we hope to see a more balanced and collaborative approach to training and learning for the sector, through the launch of Local Skills improvements plans, a suite of manufacturing related T-levels and the upcoming spending review.

The APMG will continue to drive forward the report’s recommendations, facilitating conversations around manufacturing skills through its events programme and with the launch of our new Manufacturing Commission inquiry.

About the APMG and Policy Connect

The All Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group (APMG) is at the forefront of the policy debate, parliamentary engagement and research related to manufacturing and industry. By holding regular events & seminars in Parliament the APMG seeks to bring parliamentarians together with industry and the commercial sector to better understand the sector challenges. The APMG publish a monthly newsletter to Parliament and its members, with summaries of manufacturing policy stories, industry news, and other political developments, along with research-based briefing papers on topical legislation. The arms-length Manufacturing Commission produce research reports with evidence-based recommendations for government informed by our members.

Policy Connect is a cross-party think tank with five main policy pillars which are: Accessible & Assistive Technology; Education & Skills; Health; Industry, Technology & Innovation; and Sustainability. Our collaboration with parliamentarians through these groups allows us to influence public policy in Westminster and Whitehall. We are a social enterprise and are funded by a combination of regular annual membership subscriptions and time-limited sponsorships. The secretariat for the APMG is provided by the Industry, Technology and Innovation team.

[1] EMP13: Employment by industry data set, ONS August 2021