Margareta Pagano: The car industry is on a roll. But our skills are stuck in second gear

In The City: Apprenticeships should be made at least equal to university degrees

It was Françoise Sagan who said: "Money may not buy happiness, but I'd rather cry in a Jaguar than on a bus." The French writer had taste, but if she were alive today, she would choose Jaguar's new F-type model in which to sob her heart out as it's quite simply one of the most gorgeous racing cars on the road. Launched in May, sales of the F-type are zipping along at 1,000 a month, which helped Jaguar Land Rover's sales jump by nearly a third in the first half of the year.

The F-type, like all the 360,000 vehicles made by JLR last year, are made in Britain – every single nut and bolt. Since being taken over by the Indian Tata group, the company has grown rapidly and now employs 25,000 skilled workers – 7,000 of whom are engineers – and earns around £8bn in exports a year.

JLR's turnaround is one of the most astonishing success stories of the past decade but it's not the only one in the industry. Together with Nissan, Ford, McLaren, GKN and many others in the supply chain, JLR is part of an automotive industry that is now producing 1.58 million vehicles a year – nearly as many as in its 1960s heyday – and employs over a million people.

And do you know why the industry is so spectacularly successful? This is the pot-boiler. They may be in short supply but the UK still has the best engineers in the world, and meanwhile the carmakers enjoy great relations with their work-forces and work closely alongside the unions, such as Unite. That's not what we are used to hearing about British industry or its workforce, but it's true and we need to shout it out loud.

Now the auto industry is so confident about the future that it is co-investing with the Government to build a new Advanced Propulsion Centre to research and develop the next generation of engines – low-carbon ones to replace our petrol and diesel ones. Over the next decade, the Government and the 27 automotive companies that are collaborating will invest £500m each in the APC, which is likely to generate another 30,000 new jobs.

Huge credit for getting this new research centre off the ground should go to the chief petrol-heads, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, and Professor Richard Parry-Jones, co-chairs of the UK Automotive Council, who fittingly announced the new deal at Goodwood's Festival of Speed on Friday.

Indeed, it is the result of a great partnership that has seen £6bn of foreign investment in the UK over the last two years, helping to secure at least 7,500 jobs. Mr Cable, who has also set up the Automotive Investment Organisation, reckons this amount can be doubled over the next few years.

This is what a modern industrial strategy looks like – imaginative, collaborative and long term. Yet there is more to be done in fleshing out the details. Unite, which welcomed the strategy, also makes the point that ways need to be found to build more on the UK's domestic supply chains, as too many components are still coming from overseas.

Of greater concern is whether there are enough young people with the right STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and maths) to fill the huge number of jobs that are on offer. The Automotive Council says its members hope to recruit around 7,600 apprentices and 1,700 graduates over the next five years. Sadly, the answer is that we don't have those skills in great enough quantities – we have only about half the engineers needed for jobs across all industries.

If the young are to be inspired we need a new national careers service, and apprenticeships should be made at least equal to university degrees.

It doesn't matter that foreigners own our car industry but it does matter that we make the cars here. Just imagine the horror if the success of the last decade fell apart because of a lack of skills. Now that would be embarrassing.

As I've said many times before, this skills shortage is down to too many parents and teachers still being oblivious to the huge potential within the manufacturing sector. So here's an idea: Jaguar Land Rover should give all head-teachers an F-Type to test drive for at least a term when school starts in September. Maybe that will get their juices flowing.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there