A Blog for Love Our Colleges Week
Monday, 19 October, 2020
Tags:Press Release Business & Management Apprenticeships Engineering T Levels
Craig Wigglesworth, Managing Director of a SME manufacturing company STT (Specialist Tooling Technologies Ltd) and David White, Head of Employer Engagement at Wakefield College discuss STT in particular and the region as a whole’s training needs. They talk about how Wakefield College helps to meet those needs helping businesses succeed and what needs to be done in the future to make sure they can continue to innovatively collaborate with businesses in the Leeds City Region and beyond.
STT was formed 17 years ago in Castleford, West Yorkshire. We design and manufacture a range of engineering equipment including Special Purpose Machines and Gauges, Jigs, Fixtures, Data logging software and provide engineering support for local companies and beyond for their manufacturing lines.
One of the problems we have faced in our industry is a shortage of skilled engineers. We have advertised for skilled engineers, but many candidates did not have the skill set required. A few people we have employed, despite previously having a career in engineering have shown no ability whatsoever, which cost us a lot of money.
Having struggled to find the skilled labour, we turned to employing apprentices who we could train in house from the knowledge we at STT have as a collective. Our 1st apprentice many years ago was my brother, we then carried on setting on apprentices using several sources.
We have used word of mouth through our employees however the greatest resource we have locally is Wakefield College. In 2019, we got in touch with them to help us find candidates that would meet our needs as the job demands students of a high calibre that possess the ability to learn quickly and absorb and retain that information. They have and still continue to find us some outstanding candidates, many of which are still with us now, no longer apprentices. One of the many benefits of offering apprenticeships we found is that they are loyal employees!
We recently expanded and moved to larger premise in Pontefract, yes during this pandemic! Are we mad you ask? No! As an innovative manufacturing company, we rise to challenges. Other manufacturers would not touch some of the jobs we have! We do everything from the concept to the initial prototypes to the fully installed machinery. Taking on these larger jobs meant we needed more space for some of the machines we were building, so we decided to invest in a larger unit which also meant we could take on more people, providing jobs for local people!
Without the calibre of employees and apprentices we have none of this would be possible. We currently have 19 employees including 6 Wakefield College Engineering Apprentices with two new ones who started this September as apprentices on the new L2 Engineering Operations – Electrical Pathway Apprenticeship Standard. The relationships we have with the assessors is fantastic, they are friendly and helpful making the process so easy.
This year in February we won the Award for Small Employer of the Year at Wakefield College’s 2020 Annual Apprenticeships Awards where they celebrate the achievements of students and employers across the region. Personally, I get a great deal of satisfaction seeing the change in the apprentices, from the knowledge and experience they gain, to the application of that knowledge and the accomplishment and sense of pride in their work they gain from producing work of a good standard.
The nature of our business is that its constantly evolving and we are always coming up with innovative ideas for machinery. The best way the government can help with training/skills that we need as an SME is provide further investment and support within the colleges so that they can keep providing current and up to date training for the next workforce generations.
The majority of businesses that we work with are SME’s like STT, but we do collaborate with businesses of all sizes from individual tradesmen to very large businesses such as Haribo, Coca Cola and Next in pretty much every sector. We have had approximately 170 new apprentices since the new government apprenticeship incentives came in and over 700+ students in total on apprenticeships.
We have a long list of skills shortages in our region with specific issues around engineering and manufacturing as Craig has said, there are many people in this industry who are towards the end of career who are highly skilled and highly experienced as well as many new entrants starting out, but that leaves a gap of people in the middle. There’s also a high demand for construction nationally and regionally due to a lack of skilled tradesmen. A lot of construction businesses are using apprenticeships to try build their workforces. Leadership and management are always something all businesses need training on. There is a huge demand in the digital industry for programmers, full stack web developers, and coders. And of course, as people will be aware there is always a national shortage of nurses and not enough people going into the care sector i.e. residential care homes. Generally, in the Leeds City egion there is a shortage of higher-level skilled workers.
Skills and training are so complex that it’s hard for employers to know what’s the right solution to help their business. This is one of the aims of our Skills Planning Service, to navigate through the complexity for them and link their problems to the skills needed. We offer many solutions from work placements to apprenticeships and training to upskill your current workforce. SMEs don’t necessarily have HR or leadership and development departments, so the Skills Planning Service does some of that for them and helps them to understand the skills landscape without having to have experts in their own business. As we did for STT we can match students to the employer and match up the qualification to the job role. We have a pool of candidates and CVs which we narrow down with the business for them to interview and select.
We are also identifying where there are gaps in the skills provision in our region, in collaboration with the West Yorkshire Consortium of Colleges on an ESF funded project called Let’s Talk Real Skills. It’s about trying to develop the provision that’s relevant for them where the skills demand is and address those gaps. Then we can pilot these courses with them and check they are the right solutions to refine the offer and improve it for future needs.
The various pots of funding around are nearly always for SMEs to put towards training. There are government initiatives in the pipeline which will provide more money for SMEs to train such as the devolution of the Adult Education Budget and exploring how the apprenticeship levy funding can be transferred to SMEs to be used for training other than apprenticeships. Another government initiative which has been discussed is anyone who hasn’t already got the equivalent of an A Level to be able to do one fully funded, what the stipulations will be and the courses that will be on offer are still to be decided.
I’d like to see more funding in the future further education strategy so we can offer more courses fully funded to businesses and more creative use of the apprenticeship levy so businesses can pay for other things. We need a devolution of the skills agenda and funding to a regional level, as opposed to the current one-size fits all national approach. We need better access to central government data; they gather an unbelievable amount of data but getting access to it is difficult and we never have a full picture of what’s going on.
In the past FE colleges were essentially technical colleges but this has changed over the years and FE has become more academic. I believe we need more emphasis on vocational training which links to employment. We are one of the providers that was selected to deliver the new T Levels in 2021 digital, construction and childcare. These 2-year courses, equivalent to 3 A Levels, have been developed in collaboration with employers and businesses so that the content meets the needs of industry and prepares students for work, further training or study. T Levels offer students a mixture of classroom learning and ‘on-the-job’ experience during an industry placement of at least 315 hours (approximately 45 days). This is a move in the right direction!
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DATE: 19 October, 2020