Booming car manufacturing bring skills agenda to the fore

The news that car manufacturing in the UK has hit a six-year high of 1.5m vehicles, and that engineering firm Dyson plans to hire 3,000 engineers by 2015, has once again brought the issue of skill shortages in the UK’s manufacturing and engineering sectors to the force.

Thu, 23 Jan 2014

The news that car manufacturing in the UK has hit a six-year high of 1.5m vehicles, and that engineering firm Dyson plans to hire 3,000 engineers by 2015, has once again brought the issue of skill shortages in the UK’s manufacturing and engineering sectors to the force.

Henry Noteman, associate director resourcing solutions at engineering recruiter Jonathan Lee Recruitment, tells Recuiter that while “the growth of UK industry is obviously fantastic news all round, any rapid progress like this presents significant challenges when it comes to workforce planning”.

Sir James Dyson, Dyson’s founder, echoes these concerns, calling for more help from government, telling the Daily Telegraph that a grant to help students pay their fees would be helpful.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the trade body for the UK automotive industry, agrees that a scarcity of talent is a concern, telling Recruiter: “There is a shortage of skilled engineers, particularly those with the knowledge and expertise relating to new and emerging technologies.”

While a spokesperson for Nissan, which this week said that recent hiring at its Sunderland plant had taken the number of employees there to over 7,000 for the first time, tells Recruiter: “We are aware of worries across the engineering industries of a looming skills shortage due to the age profile of the current workforce and proposed investments and growth in the sector.

“For a company like Nissan this isn’t such a big issue as we are big enough to attract the people we require," adds the spokesperson.  "However, we are taking a lead on behalf of the industry in raising this issue with government and encouraging other companies to invest in skills.”

Noteman tells Recruiter: “Part of the answer for companies is to make themselves as attractive as possible to potential recruits, so that it is easier to get the people you want either domestically or through sourcing them from abroad.”

Noteman continues: “Dyson is a great example of how to present yourself as a company if you want to attract the best people: innovative cutting-edge developers of market-leading technology. Their announcement of wanting 3,000 extra staff and the timescale they are talking about will make the proposition a serious challenge, but the way they present themselves to prospective recruits is something the rest of the UK’s industry should model itself on.”

Ultimately, Noteman says the problem will only be solved by the UK as a whole getting more young people interested in engineering across all disciplines, a process that starts with Britain’s education system.  

“If we don’t solve the skills shortage as soon as possible, then labour costs will continue to rise as we face fierce competition for talent,” adds Noteman.

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