As the UK’s engineering sector continues to face a skills shortage, one of Hertfordshire’s leading sheet metal manufacturing specialists, Ludwick Precision, examines the changing landscape for apprenticeships and the urgent need for more apprentices.

The Apprenticeship scheme is currently in a period of significant change, relating to both structure and financing.  Over the past decade, training providers have been responsible for managing 80% of all Apprenticeships in England with large employers and further education colleges making up the other 20% but that all changed in 2017.

In April, a new Apprenticeship Levy was introduced, which is paid at a rate of 0.5% of turnover by all employers with a payroll of more than £3million per year. This affects up to 20,000 businesses.  The Government expects to raise over £3 billion a year by 2019-20, £2.5 billion of which will be ring-fenced to be spent on English apprenticeships only.  The funds collected will be accessible to employers who want to purchase apprenticeship training, regardless of company size or contribution (or not) to the Levy.

In May, the Government launched a new system of fifteen funding bands to which all apprenticeship framework standards are assigned.  Employers are responsible for negotiating with training providers to determine a price for training and assessment within a funding band.  A new voucher scheme also came into force in January, enabling employers to purchase training directly from their chosen supplier.  This process transfers the administrative burden previously managed by colleges and training providers into the hands of employers.

This has potentially serious consequences for the engineering and manufacturing sectors, as most businesses do not have the staff or expertise to navigate the necessary ‘red tape’ to access funded training.  As a result, many commentators believe this could lead to a trainee drought, worsening an already critical skills shortage but in Hitchin, leading metal fabrication company, Ludwick Precision, which has supported apprenticeships for several years, has just taken on its latest 16-year old apprentice.

Ryian Ludwick, Sales Director for Hitchin sheet metal manufacturing firm, Ludwick Precision, comments: “The introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy heralds a sea change in the training landscape. Employers are expected to increase their contribution but there is a concern that many could withdraw from training, which would be seriously detrimental to the sector’s long term health. Apprentices are tomorrow’s engineers and without them, the UK will cease to manufacture, which is a frightening prospect.”

A drive towards ‘home grown’ talent is something Hertfordshire sheet metal fabrication specialist, Ludwick Precision, is aiming to develop but attracting the right calibre of candidate is equally challenging, as schools encourage students to aim for higher education. Ryian said:

“In our experience, young people don’t attach prestige to forging a long-term career in engineering, despite the earning potential from day one, whilst also being trained.  Many still view it as a sector with limited prospects, not realising the demand and rewards for those who are skilled. There needs to be a seismic shift in the UK’s approach to careers and vocational training if perceptions are to be changed.”

Ludwick’s views are backed up by evidence from employer-led engineering skills organisation, Semta, which claims Britain needs 1.8 million new engineers by 2025. Similarly, not-for-profit body Engineering UK forecasts a shortage of 69,000 skilled employees a year.

Separate research from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers suggests the UK education system is not turning out workers with the skills employers need and 63 per cent of engineers believe the skills shortage will grow in the years ahead.

“As a wholly UK based company, we believe it will become increasingly difficult to hire non-UK nationals and particularly those with specific skill sets that a business like ours needs in order to remain competitive, so it’s imperative that the Government focuses on supporting engineering, just as we are doing at a local level,” concluded Ryian Ludwick.

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