Manufacturers are calling on government to take “urgent action” to save the nation’s apprenticeships and “reskill, retrain and redeploy” skilled workers made redundant in the wake of COVID-19.
Against the current backdrop of mass lay-offs on a scale unseen since the 1980s, the manufacturing sector faces a loss of skills, jobs and apprentices that without help, will not return to levels seen before COVID for years to come.
Apprenticeships, long seen by the sector as the best route to secure invaluable skills, are becoming unaffordable as businesses struggle for survival.
In May, the number of starts for 16-18-year-olds dropped 79% year on year, with numbers set to dwindle even further. And a third of manufacturers are cancelling or putting their apprenticeship training on hold due to financial pressure from COVID.
Make UK, the Trade Union Congress, the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions and skills training providers Enginuity and Cogent alongside other industry stakeholders have joined forces to write to the Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson, outlining the immediate and direct action needed to safeguard Britain’s skills, young people and the manufacturing sector as a whole.
A National Skills taskforce must be set up at speed involving the trade unions and other key stakeholders to ensure vitals skills and skilled workers are retained and redeployed within industry, they say.
The taskforce should work to identify opportunities where workers’ skills are in demand, whether in manufacturing or other sectors and develop a flagship upskilling programme to support employers in the development of new digital and ‘green’ skills needed for a future proofed economy.
This should work alongside a nationally agreed programme for workers who already have the necessary basic skills to reskill them into new growth areas of work and take advantage of new jobs that will be required as companies look to work differently, bringing their supply chains closer to home and enter new markets.
Apprentices must also be protected through more flexible use of levy funds paid by companies, they say. Government must extend the lifetime of funds from 24 to 36 months to allow apprentices the chance to finish their courses.
The levy should also be further adapted to allow it to be used for short term retraining and reskilling, alongside the introduction of modular learning to speed apprentices through training. Flex should be applied allowing levy-paying companies to use their levy funds to protect employment, while non-levy companies should have access to new direct grants.
To future proof the apprenticeship model going forward, Government must also allow companies to spend more levy funds on an apprenticeship to reflect the real cost of training a young person, the groups say.
“Imaginative and speedy solutions are required to safeguard manufacturing in the UK in these unprecedented times. A National Skills Taskforce made up of representatives from industry, trade unions and Government – led by the Business Department – would go a long way to protecting the essential skills of the future within the sector,” said Stephen Phipson, CEO of Make UK.
“A programme to redeploy those highly skilled workers made redundant during COVID would safeguard manufacturing for the future, and help the sector retain hard-won talent as the country begins the hard work of economic recovery.
“Apprenticeships too are in danger of becoming another casualty – with companies already reducing or cancelling their training programmes altogether. Apprentices are the future, and without those skilled workers the country will not be able to take advantage of any upturn when it happens.”