The manufacturing and process industry has called on the government to invest directly in retraining its workforce to cope with new technology in order to help pull the sector out of recession and ensure that it remains competitive in world markets.
Proskills, the Sector Skills Council for the industry, has got together with the British Printing Industries Foundation and the Unite union to argue that, unless current skills are updated to cope with changing market requirements, the sector will have trouble in maintaining its reputation for innovation.
Terry Watts, Proskills’ chief executive, said: “With the industry advancing in new technology, and manufacturing showing signs of recovery, we need to be able to support and sustain this growth if the UK is to remain competitive. There is money to be made and saved by investing in skills and new technologies.”
This was because investing in people was a powerful tool in enabling organisations to motivate and retain them, while ensuring that UK business remained at the cutting edge globally, he added.
While the country had a “long and enviable record of innovation and technological leadership”, it did not have the same reputation for commercialising innovation. As a result, Watts said: “What’s really needed is government support in transforming the skills of workers to provide organisations and employees with the tools they need for this transition.”
Tony Burke of the Unite union agreed. “Everything is going digital and there is going to be a skills shortage if we don’t do something soon. We need to recognise the skills of our workforce and we need the right people, with the right skills. Those who plan and train will reap the rewards in future.”
The Skills Minister Kevin Brennan acknowledged that, to address the issue, it was necessary to develop a partnership with all sides of the industry. “We want to make sure the government plays its part to capitalise on the new technology that is available,” he said.
The process and manufacturing industry is made up of 80,000 companies, employing about four million staff. It represents about one third of the UK’s manufacturing base.