CEO Update

Skills reform can drive UK auto’s diverse ecosystem

22 March 2024 #CEO Update

This week’s announcement of reforms to the Apprenticeship Levy presents a huge opportunity for the whole UK automotive sector but particularly smaller businesses, and it could not be more timely. As we seek to gain ground on the critical skills gaps emerging in our transition to net zero, connected and automated mobility, the skills challenge is felt acutely in our industry’s SME sector, given its highly diverse and specialist nature. The ‘plateau of prosperity’ is the ultimate destination for many but having the best skilled people is essential to getting there.

Government’s new £60 million package to increase apprenticeship funding for SMEs while expanding business-size eligibility represents a step in the right direction – so mission critical are apprentices for businesses that need to develop their own talent, while helping deliver better productivity, workforce diversity and staff retention. The auto sector has long called for reform and those made will help, opening doors up and down Britain for SMEs to employ apprentices – perhaps for the very first time – unlocking business growth and providing life-changing career opportunities.

The measures focus on young people up to the age of 21 and long, successful careers have been the bedrock of the auto sector for generations, a tradition we must ensure continues. However, given the skills shortages we face, it’s crucial that industry remains open to recruiting the very best talent from all backgrounds – including career changers and returners that may have highly valuable experience. That’s what makes projects such as STEM Returners co-launched by SMMT last month so important, providing a 12-week returnship for professionals on a career break to access real work experience and mentoring to gain permanent employment. Apprenticeships are also valuable to such people who want to earn while learning new skills – and indeed many already are among our industry’s bigger employers, with one in four of UK automotive’s 5,000 apprentices currently upskilling from existing roles.

Given how interconnected the automotive ecosystem is, both within the UK and globally, helping SMEs gain the superpower that is apprenticeships will boost the whole sector – driving growth and innovation, collaboration and competitiveness. Gender diversity is also integral for that ambition with proven benefits to leadership and creativity, and the UK’s new cross-industry Invest in Women Taskforce also announced this week to support women-led start-ups is very welcome – a move that chimes with automotive’s strongly backed pledge to grow women’s representation of the workforce to 30% by the end of the decade. As industry continues to undergo huge change thanks to massive investment in a new generation of products and technologies, our manufacturing and our markets must be more diverse than ever – and so too must be our recruitment.

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