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Charlie Duff

Sift Media


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Skills investment in UK manufacturing needs to be protected if it is to lead recovery


Will a coalition be good for manufactuing? Proskills UK welcomes the new coalition but Terry Watts, CEO of Proskills UK, and New Balance HR Director Paul Kennedy have called for further action.


“We believe that the partnership between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties has great potential for maximising the employer voice in the skills agenda, for identifying waste and complexity and for providing the required support for companies in the Process and Manufacturing industries as they move out of the recession to build for the future.”

Terry believes the chosen route of a sectoral lead in the skills system, both from a funding and training perspective. However, he added we need to address other pressing issues, such as the issue of innovation in manufacturing in Britain. He said: “The UK has a long and enviable record of innovation and technological leadership, but it does not have the same reputation for commercialising innovation. What’s really needed is support in transforming the skills of workers and help to provide organisations and employees with the tools they need for this transition.”

He had some good news for unemployment in the UK: “This is now especially crucial with signs that some parts of production are slowly moving back to the UK, encouraged by the weakening of the pound and quality issues from overseas production. This is a positive move and one that should be supported if we are to reduce our reliance on imports and increase the competitiveness of the UK, creating British jobs.”

However it is essential that companies invest in their workforce through training and apprenticeships to get the best out of it – providing the skills needed for an increase in manufacturing and gaining jobs for those currently without jobs or training.

Paul Kennedy, HR director at sportswear specialist brand New Balance, which is the only sportswear company still manufacturing trainers in the UK, agreed, and said: “I believe we have enormous manufacturing ‘untapped’ talent in existing workplaces. Organisations need create flexibility and agility to respond to market needs. It’s likely at some point there will be an upsurge in activity and orders. Now’s the time to equip the workforce with the skills to be fully flexible in everything they do.”

Paul has been putting in place a development programme at New Balance to ensure all the manufacturing team members can perform each other’s roles. He added: “As employers are multi-skilling their workforce so they need to backfill with talent filling the pipeline and developing for the future. On shoring is becoming a trend and a much talked about term, but it will fail if you don’t have enough multi-skilled resources to meet demand.”
He also pointed out that there was a need for real leadership to drive these changes: “You need leaders who are able to grow people, capability, skills and ultimately capacity to meet the future demands.”

Agreeing that government could help the sector, he questioned government policy, saying they should consider tendering contacts to UK manufacturers whenever possible. He concluded: “By ensuring government contracts are given to the best UK companies we ensure there is a pipeline of work and therefore an environment for real training at grassroots through apprenticeships and graduate style programmes.”

The Proskills CEO Terry Watts added: “The sector requires continued support for the country’s manufacturing backbone. Investment in the skills of the workforce will help to speed up the recovery from the recession, and to prepare the country for future growth and opportunities.

“We will continue to work with the government to research and represent the skill needs of the 1 million employees in the process and manufacturing industries across the UK, and continue to develop the qualifications demanded by industry.”

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Charlie Duff


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