NORTH East manufacturing giant Nifco UK is celebrating recruiting its latest cohort of apprentices, but again raised concerns about the lack of effort to avert industry skill shortages.

Mike Matthews MBE, managing director of Nifco UK, said he was proud of the firm’s commitment to apprenticeships, as he welcomed six new recruits into the business.

However, he claimed a lack of craftsmen and women such as toolmakers, mechanical maintenance technicians and production engineers, caused by a dearth of companies training apprentices was “without doubt the number one biggest risk to manufacturing and engineering in the UK”. 

The Eaglescliffe business, which manufactures parts used in the engines, interiors and exteriors of cars, produced by BMW Mini, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Jaguar Landrover, Nissan, Renault, Toyota and Vauxhall Opel, has recruited toolmaker apprentice Liam Higgins, 20, maintenance technician apprentice Kieron Mulroy, 18, polymer technician apprentices Philip Grainger, 22, Matthew Hall, 31, and Stephen Bowes, 23, and logistics and supply chain apprentice Matthew Appleton, 17.

Mr Matthews said: “We are recruiting the future of Nifco with these exceptionally talented young individuals, who won through a rigorous selection process against 11 other motivated young people.

“As usual, we had several hundred applications for these roles, and having boiled them down to a stand-out 17, the candidates were given tasks to complete by assessors ranging from heads of departments to existing and graduated apprentices.

“While it’s great to have such a large number of people interested in our roles, it does point to a problem in the industry generally – there simply aren’t enough businesses providing apprenticeships, even though demand for them is clearly there. And sadly, this goes beyond automotive. There are massive shortages of apprenticeships across the trades too – plumbers, electricians, plasterers, bricklayers.”

Mr Matthews warned that unless more is done across the manufacturing and engineering sector, regional industry will suffer in the future.

“We benefit immensely from the fresh talent apprenticeships bring to Nifco, but feel there are many businesses not taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by them at the current time,” added Mike. “The future skills gap will affect everyone, not a select few. It is in all of our interests to support the next generation and invest in people.”

Recent reports claim a 61% fall in the number of young people enrolling on apprenticeship schemes between May and July 2017 compared with the same period in 2016, suggesting the new apprenticeship levy isn’t working.

Mr Matthews added: “If businesses are not engaging in the training agenda, then collectively business and Government must do more – roll-out the levy to every company, generating additional funds to support regional and sub-regional funded training and apprenticeship programmes that companies would participate in, because they would be paying for them anyway.”

Nifco UK management raised its concerns with Philip Greenish, Chief Executive and Dame Ann Dowling, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, during a recent visit.

Philip said: “Nifco UK has shown how innovative businesses can transform their productivity through strong leadership and by recruiting and training talented, motivated people.  If the UK is to thrive, we need many more companies to train the workforce of the future in this way but the early indicators since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy are worrying. We are actively encouraging government to address these issues and, crucially, to help widen recruitment into manufacturing and engineering to attract more women and people from under-represented groups.”

Mike Matthews concluded: “The introduction of the levy has been one of the largest shake-ups in skills policy in decades, but it must be made simpler, more accessible and appeal more to those businesses that would benefit greatly from engaging in the apprenticeship agenda.”