Andy Street toured In-Comm Training as part of a Black Country Chamber and Made in the Midlands-backed visit and was given an insight into the current climate of uncertainty that is creating a downturn in the number of firms looking to grow their own staff.
He met with bosses, employers and apprentices in a bid to get to the bottom of the issue and understand what Government needs to do in order to support young people who are looking for a career in engineering and manufacturing.
Bekki Phillips, Managing Director of In-Comm Training, pointed out the current decline in the automotive sector as a key driver, with a number of apprentices being let go halfway through their courses by companies struggling to cope with reduced volumes.
“Our approach is very much employer-led in that we design the courses and support the young people to ensure they have the skills they need to have an immediate impact when they start work with a company,” explained Bekki.
“That’s fine and we’ve enjoyed a good deal of success with lots of businesses investing in skills over the last three years. However, the uncertainty of Brexit and falling sales in automotive, has resulted in a number of firms letting their apprentices go before they have completed their course as they need to keep their experienced staff.”
She continued: “Working in partnership with the Government, we need to find a way where we can keep these young people on and completing their courses so that industry has the talent pool it needs to compete – both in uncertain times and when they need to grow.
“This could be financial support by using unspent Levy money to cover some of the costs of employing an apprentice.”
Andy Street, who was joined on the visit by Wendy Moreton MP, said: “Every young person in the West Midlands should have access to an apprenticeship and I am delighted that, thanks to the West Midlands Combined Authority, this dream is becoming a reality.
“A clear example of our plan being put into action is our pioneering apprenticeship levy fund, which is helping to fund hundreds of apprentices that would not have otherwise existed. Our levy allows major employers, who have unspent apprenticeship money, to place the cash in a pot for smaller businesses to access and use to fund apprentices.
“Major employers, such as HSBC, Lloyds and BT, have already signed up and are contributing significant sums, benefitting a whole range of smaller businesses right across the region.
He added: “However, Bekki Phillips and the team at In-Comm Training raised some very interesting points. It is all well and good us creating the places, but we also need to make sure that these young people are supported throughout their journey and see their apprenticeship through to the end.
“With that in mind the WMCA’s skills team and I will work closely with In-Comm and other training providers, employers, and of course Government, to make sure support to apprentices and their employers is improved.”
In-Comm Training, which is rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, operates three state-of-the-art academies in Aldridge and, under the Marches Centre of Manufacturing & Technology (MCMT) banner, at Bridgnorth and Shrewsbury.
Across the three sites, it trains more than 500 apprentices every year on 40 different trailblazer standards, ranging from mechatronics and welding to machinists and heritage engineering.
Over £7m has been invested in the three sites to ensure that the training is delivered on the latest CNC, metrology, robotics, wire EDM and fluid power technology.
Bekki concluded: “It was great to meet Andy Street and hear how passionate he is about skills and ensuring the region has the talent it needs to be globally competitive.
“As one of the training providers selected to help the West Midlands Combined Authority deliver its new Levy fund, we believe we have a real opportunity to make a difference, but the approach will only work if training specialists, education, employers and Government are all working together.”