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April 03, 2014 - Rachel Miller

Skills shortage threatens SME growth plans

Skills shortage threatens SME growth plansA new survey from accountancy group MHA has found that 92% of SME manufacturers predict growth in 2014, but an ongoing skills shortage could hinder their plans.

The research shows growing optimism among manufacturers. However, there is a shortage of recruits at every level – even though there has been a 13% rise in the numbers taking on apprentices.

The availability of skilled engineers and graduates is a problem for 65% of manufacturers despite the fact that 59% expect to see an increase in staff numbers in 2014 and 64% of companies intend to take on apprentices or trainees.

Chris Coopey, head of MHA's manufacturing group, describes the skills shortage as "a national scandal". He said: "The sector continues to suffer from a shortage of capable and motivated recruits and skilled engineers, including graduate engineers. This will become a real barrier to growth and will undoubtedly affect the UK's ability to compete on the global stage."

Coopey added: "We need to get to grips once and for all with motivating our young people to consider a career in engineering and manufacturing. Failing to grasp this nettle will mean that the manufacturing renaissance the UK needs will be strangled at birth and the competitive ability of UK manufacturers looking to trade around the world will be seriously compromised."

Meanwhile, John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, told the BCC annual conference this week that "great growth is not a luxury, it's a necessity."

And one of the key challenges to growth is education, said Longworth: "Preparing this next generation for the British workforce is too important to the economy for us to ignore. The schools system must prepare those individuals who have academic ability, but who do not currently have access to universities, by whatever means, for the sake of the economy."

He added: "But it's not at the pure academic end of the spectrum of our talent pool that we have the greatest problems. Some educational institutions do a great job linking with employers, but far too many have lost the vocational plot."

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