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Solving our ageing workforce dilemma

I think it’s fair to say that manufacturers like a good moan. If it’s not the ridiculously unfair labour advantages of the Far East, then it’s the extortionate price of diesel or material costs that seem to only go one way…upwards.

Skilled staff – or a distinct lack of them – is another issue we like to get on our proverbial soapbox about.

Some of the criticism is valid. I genuinely think that Apprenticeships have been diluted since the days when I first started as a would-be engineer and young people no longer seem equipped with the basic skills or attitude for work.

There’s also something missing in the core content of the courses, perhaps it’s been sacrificed in place of the tick-box mentality these schemes often rely on to secure funding.

With an ageing workforce at Westley Engineering, we were left with two choices…we could moan like the rest of our sector and accept the status quo or we could do something to change it.

We decided on the latter. Based on the football loan scheme, we have come up with a new take on the core Apprenticeship programme that involves our young people spending time at other engineering businesses and vice versa.

So far we have enlisted the support of Midlands Assembly Network members Barkley Plastics and Brandauer, with the final member of the quartet being Redditch-based Peterson Spring.

The idea is simple. We are all or in the process of employing an apprentice and they will all go through the official route of attending an approved training provider.

On top of this, we have agreed to undertake ‘loans’ for our young people. This will usually be on a monthly basis and will be reciprocated so that during the course of the year, the individual should hopefully spend time at four very different manufacturers.

This approach should provide them with a greater experience in various disciplines of engineering and an understanding of how products/processes differ when supplying customers in a range of sectors.

As an employer we should get a more motivated member of staff with a wider skills set and, potentially, the sharing of best practice training methods from the companies taking part.

The apprentice, who will automatically receive their national qualification, is able to broaden their engineering CV and is exposed to a more varied and exciting role.

So far we have six young people involved in this scheme and the earlier indications suggest that it’s proving a win-win for both the company and the member of staff.

Could it work on a bigger scale? I believe if the right firms with the right mentality are involved then it should do. 

After all, anything is better than just moaning about the situation without doing anything to find the solution!

Gerry Dune, Managing Director of Westley Engineering

Gerry Dunne

Gerry Dunne

Chairman of the Midlands Assembly Network

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