Skills Crisis That Will See Firms Go Under

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Byline: ANNA BLACKABY

The region's thriving manufacturers are set to offer thousands of jobs in coming years - but this success story could come crashing down due to a lack of skills.

Over the next five years the West Midlands will see around 90,000 hard-to-fill manufacturing jobs as the UK's buoyant industrial base turns out more products than in 1966 when employment in the sector was at its peak.

But despite the region having 221,000 people out of work, manufacturers are struggling to recruit because the local workforce does not have the skills needed to make these products.

Some firms even admit that an ageing workforce and a lack of fresh blood mean they will have to shut up shop in the next ten years and other companies have resorted to taking on 75-year olds as they could not find suitably qualified younger people.

The findings, from research carried out by the University of Birmingham revealed at the Royal Geographical Society's annual international conference, highlight the need to change the image of manufacturing in schools to encourage more young people into industry. Professor John Bryson, Chair of Enterprise and Economic Geography at the University of Birmingham, said UK manufacturing was in "rude health" thanks to its focus on design and innovation which meant British products could not be copied by low-cost countries.

But he warned that the public perception of manufacturing was negative and stuck in the past, meaning young people were being put off the sector at school.

"You could argue it's an opportunity, but it's also a problem and a threat," he said.

"There are vast numbers of potential job opportunities out there - as long as individuals are sold manufacturing as a potential career option and as long as the schools, further education colleges and universities highlight manufacturing as something that is desirable. How many school teachers stand up in front of their class and say a career in manufacturing is something you should be considering?" He said his research had led him to see first-hand a wide selection of manufacturers in the West Midlands, including companies working across the automotive, jewellery, textiles and foundries sector, who all reported similar problems in finding suitably skilled staff. One particularly worrying finding was that some of the companies he spoke to said they would be forced to shut eventually because of skills shortages.

"It will put them under - they are planning to close because they have hardto-fill vacancies," he said. …