factual information on which to base future plans.Through Sheffield TEC's Steel Task Force (made
up of TEC board members and staff, employers andindustry representatives) a research project wascommissioned from Steel Training Ltd, the Shef-field-based national training organisation for thesteel industry. The purpose of the study was toassess the skills shortages and consequent trainingneeds likely to affect the steel sector in Sheffield overthe coming three years, in order to provide informa-tion for use in planning training provision.
The survey, published in March of this year,provided detailed information on the areas of skillshortages in Sheffield's steel industry, and alsohighlighted some specific areas of action relating torecruitment and training.
Multiskilling - the formal training of skilled em-ployees in one or more additional recognised skills- is widely recognised as a response to skill short-ages. However, only four of the 25 companies sur-veyed were pursuing formal programmes of multi-skilling. The key factor discouraging companiesfrom adopting a multiskill approach, where it hadbeen considered, was the relatively high costs andlevel of commitment involved.
The report recommended that steel companies and.the TEC work together to find effective approaches totraining for multiskilling, establishing pilot projects toencourage companies to become involved. It also sug-gested initiatives that would allow the industry to learnfrom best practice in multiskilling elsewhere, throughvisits or expert advice.
In the steel companies surveyed, the vast ma-jority of employees were aged between 31 and 50,posing a serious problem for the future as the work-force ages and skills are lost. However, 17 of thecompanies in the sample had no formal engineeringapprenticeships. Reasons for this included highcosts, a reliance upon recruiting ready trained em-ployees, and concerns about the existing appren-ticeship training system. Since the survey showedthat the steel industry in Sheffield has considerabledifficulty finding suitably skilled recruits, appren-ticeships are vital for maintaining the skills base.
Employers' concerns about the existing systemcentre on cost, particularly during the first year whentraining is off-the-job, and the fact that off-the-jobtraining takes place before the trainee has estab-lished a relationship and track-record with the com-pany. The report therefore recommends consideringa revised grant structure for engineering apprenticetraining, and providing a more flexible system ofvocational training which takes into account theperformance standards that will be required for fu-ture National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs).
In his preface to the report, Des Kavanagh ofSheffield Forgemasters, chairman of the SheffieldTECSteel Industry Task Force commented, "Thewayto create permanent jobs must be to up-grade theskills of the existing workforce, thus enhancingcompetitiveness and industrial growth. It is hoped
that this report will help to contribute towards a newdirection for steel industry training".
New directions for training are also being de-veloped in the implementation of new technology.Here again, sectors of industry are seeing the bene-fits of pooling their resources and drawing on theassistance and expertise available from TECs andlocal training providers.
In Sheffield, training provider Economatics(BDS) Ltd conducted a feasibility study whichlooked at multi-skilling relating to key personnel inmaintenance departments across a wide range ofindustries. The study, which was funded by theSheffield TEC, identified three local companies withsimilar training needs relating to the maintenance ofprocess control equipment.
The three companies, Tinsley Bridge Ltd, SRGent and KP Nuts, all identified a need to reducedowntime in production processes and also reducethe cost of using external maintenance contractorsfor high-tech process controllers and pneumatics.All three also had limited resources for developingtraining provision, had maintenance departmentsrun on minimum staffing levels (affecting staff avai-lability for off-site training), and required trainingthat would lead to the attainment of national qualifi-cations.
Through a TEC Joint Action on Skills project, thethree were able to work together with Economaticsto both develop training and train staff to delivertraining in-house, removing the companies' de-pendence on external consultants. In addition, thetraining programmes that were developed allow fora customised approach to each company's needsand equipment. Since the training was developed inclose consultation with employees, the programmeshave the benefit of high 'ownership' by employees -an important motivational factor.
Stuart Klein, Director of Economatics, describesthis joint project as "excellent. Each partner in theproject will benefit by having a training programmededicated to their own particular needs, yet alsonationally accredited by BTEC. The training that hasbeen developed will also reduce the companies'dependency on outside consultants".
Hazel Findall, Personnel Manager at TinsleyBridge Ltd, echoes Klein's enthusiasm: "the partner-ship is unique. We will all be able to develop ourpeople more effectively, which means a better bot-tom line".
A better bottom line is what training is really allabout. The network of TECs across the countryprovides manufacturing companies with a wealth ofopportunities to address skill needs on a local leveland develop new approaches that will benefit indus-try as a whole. EQ
Richard D Field is the Chairman ofJ & J Dyson pic,the Sheffield refractories. He was a leading partici-pant in the founding of the Sheffield TEC and hasbeen its Chairman since its launch in October 1990.
According to Professor Douglas McWilliams,chief economic advisor at the CBI, interviewedin the Financial Times, "the only way we canremain competitive is by constantly upskillingthe manufacturing base. Companies mustmake themselves more innovative and hightech in order to compensate for the jobs thatwill inevitably disappear overseas".
Low skilled production is increasingly mi-grating to developing economies with low la-bour costs, particularly around the Pacific Rim.According to McWilliams, "investments inautomation are particularly important to thetask of up-skilling. We have to have betterautomated factories in Britain if we wish toretain a strong manufacturing base".
A particularly vital aspect of the upgradingprocess is technology transfer within large in-ternational companies and even between them.ICI and Siemens recently completed a two yearjoint project in the design and engineering ofan integrated automation and drive system foran ICI business based in Japan. During this,around 25 engineers from Britain, the USA,Germany and Japan were working closelytogether to meet the project's exacting engin-eering goals.
At the heart of up-skilling is the realisationthat manufacturing is increasingly a knowl-edge-intensive rather than a labour-intensiveindustry. Says McWilliams; "it is absolute rub-bish to think that manufacturing is still aboutmetalbashing and muscle. Manufacturingtoday is heavily computerised with a massiveamount of knowledge invested in productionprocesses. Sophisticated companies find theyneed to put manufacturing and design anddevelopment together to get the most out of thenew factory techniques".
Professor McWilliams believes that the keyto Britain's future manufacturing prosperity liesin the inward investment by foreign companiesin this country. He points to the knock on effectthat the Japanese car makers have had on theautomotive supply industry in drawing a poolof skills and suppliers around them which inturn attracts other manufacturing businesses.
But he also stresses that this investmentarises in part because we still have the skillsand knowledge base to make it attractive toforeign companies. Recent news from a surveycarried out in the East Midlands by Price Water-house and Nottingham Polytechnic elaims thatcompanies in the region are cutting back ontheir investment in training and fixed assets asa response to the recession. The perennialtrend for British companies to talk about skillstraining as investment for the future, but to actas if it is a cost now, has to change if we are tohope to compete in the next decade.
MANUFACTURING ENGINEER JULY/AUGUST 1991