Manufacturing in Wales Insider Breakfast 2015
Cuts in the Welsh Government’s further education budget will widen Wales’ skills gap and threaten the country’s transition to a higher value economy, the head of the Engineering Employers’ Federation (EEF) in Wales has said.
EEF Wales director Paul Byard told Insider’s Manufacturing Breakfast event that the planned cuts were “unacceptable” and that manufacturers should lobby to have them reversed.
Byard said further education spending was being cut while more money was going into the NHS in Wales. He said: “If you think of that coldly, that’s absolutely unacceptable on the basis that Wales spends about £6.5bn a year on the NHS.”
Byard said savings from better procurement and efficiency could save health service costs in Wales and avoid any need to cut college provision. He highlighted figures showing a shortage of engineering apprentices, and the loss of about 25 per cent of skilled manufacturing staff by 2025.
He said: “About 1,000 people are going to be made redundant soon in our colleges. These are people who know how to weld, electricians, all the skills we want. They are going to lose their jobs because of the cut in education, because the money’s being poured into the NHS. How are we then going to transform to the high value economy? The skills gap is going to get worse.”
David Davies, managing director of Axiom Manufacturing Services, an electronics manufacturer based near Newbridge, said his company had invested heavily in apprenticeships to get the skills it needed.
And he added: “To say that everybody will go through the same educational journey is misguided. There are people in my company who are 30 or 40 who are studying part-time, as well as working.
"You need part-time education that allows people to develop. I didn’t do a degree until I was 30-something. I was fortunate that a company funded that. But if you are not that lucky, and it is difficult for smaller companies to fund.”
Wales is strong in basic manufacturing skills, said Jo Ashburner, chief executive of Swansea-based Red Dragon Flagmakers. But she said her business had to train staff in-house to give them the specific techniques it needed.
She said: “In Wales, we are just starting to see a step change in manufacturing core products as well as glamorous products. We are starting to go back to the values that we had 100 years ago.”
“We have natural resources and a core skill set which we need to tap into. We have a lot of talented people who want to earn a good living and a job for life. We can give them that through manufacturing core products.”
Wales needs “think more strategically” about building up its skills base, said Paul Nieuwenhuis, co-director of the Centre for Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff University.
Nieuwenhuis, an expert on electric vehicles, said: “Three quarters of my students are from China. I have one Welsh person in my class this year. We are exporting a lot of our education and our skills to what are, notionally, our competitors, because they bring in money to the economy. But it’s something we need to think more strategically about."