'UK needs national talent bank'

Siemens, BAE and BT call for a skills strategy to boost manufacturing in Britain
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The Independent Online

A coalition of Britain's biggest manufacturing companies will call on the Government this week to create a national skills strategy to spearhead a radical overhaul of the country's fragmented training infrastructure.

Siemens, BT, BAE Systems, United Utilities, Scapa and Pilkington have drawn up a report, Skills for Industry – Bridging the Divide, with a number of proposals to improve the skills of the workforce.

They recommend that two new organisations be set up to deliver the strategy: a national talent bank, working on improving manufacturing skills for employees in SMEs, and another body to take the lead within the existing 17 sector skills councils.

Siemens industry UK managing director Jürgen Maier, who leads the campaign, said: "The time has come for a one-off overhaul of the skills system. The current complexities will not shake themselves out naturally and certainly not fast enough if left to natural market forces, as currently appears to be the strategy. Make no mistake, we need to build a national skills system that is here for the long term."

Mr Maier will present the report to Matthew Hancock, the skills minister, at a debate in Parliament on Wednesday with the North West Business Leadership Team, which represents 30,000 employees and 750 apprentices. Terry Scuoler, head of manufacturers' trade group EEF, and the CBI director-general, John Cridland, support the proposals.

Mr Maier added that the strategy was drafted after the industrialists identified seven critical skills challenges that threaten to stall economic rebalancing and export-led expansion. They include an acute shortage of young people qualified for employment in wealth-creating industries; helping young people who are experiencing difficulty in quickly adapting to the world of work; complexities and frequent change in the education system; and a lack of coherence and consistency in skills strategy and governance.

The report said that employers found it hard to identify the most appropriate training providers to meet their needs.

But industrialists want this new strategy to be agreed by all political parties to avoid the constant see-sawing in policy seen over the past few decades, and for it to be promoted by government.

Mr Maier said: "It cannot be acceptable to develop a skills strategy only to change it every two or three years to satisfy short-term party political demands or to chase headlines."