The glass sector needs to take the lead in safeguarding skills

Dave Broxton MD argues that industry needs to step up and set its own course in addressing the skills gap.

At the start of this year the government faced growing pressure to implement a radical rethink of its apprenticeships strategy after a 27% fall in the number taking up trainee posts in the last quarter of 2017.

The apprenticeships levy was introduced in April 2017 and places a requirement on all private organisations with an annual wage bill of more than £3 million to commit 0.5% of its pay bill to a centrally held government war chest. This can then be accessed by qualifying businesses to fund or part fund places, promoting the creation and uptake of apprenticeships.

The problem is that the scheme has had the opposite effect. The number starting apprenticeships dropped to 114,000 between August and October, down from 155,700 in the same period in 2016. That followed a 59% drop in the previous three months after its initial introduction.

It’s a tanker that is going to take some time to turn around, which is why the solution in the interim needs to come from industry or, perhaps more accurately, a partnership between it and training providers.

There’s a real opportunity here for small and medium sized business to benefit from – but also be part of – the solution.

We will take our first exploratory steps in this direction with partners drawn from business, industry representative bodies and the education sector later this month [April 2018]. The roundtable, which will be held in Manchester, follows on from an event held in London, where attendees cited the skills gap as a ‘far bigger threat to the industry than Brexit’.

Nationally the latest official figures show that unemployment is at a record low of just 4.3% of the working age population – the lowest level since 1975. This is placing a squeeze on industry with skilled labour difficult to find and retain.

According to Office for National Statistics, this means that there are more than 57,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs and 27,000 construction vacancies nationwide.

At the same time, far too many young people are unemployed; here in the north west there are 59,000 unemployed 16-24 year olds.

The equation is perhaps too simple but we have unfilled jobs and a generation of economically inactive young people who either lack the skills or motivation to enter the working world.

Turning this situation around is key for the UK and for each and every industry, including our own. We have identified a skills deficit but we need to understand how far reaching it is, the extent of its impact on our productivity, and to highlight and share those examples of how it is being addressed.

In this way we move forward. Working in partnership with training providers to deliver solutions that are moulded and specific to our requirements as an industry, which provide the skills that we will need going forward as businesses but which also develop and deliver opportunity to the individual.

The solution won’t be delivered overnight. We do, however, need to start searching for one if we are to guarantee the sustainability of our sector now and we hope, long into the future.