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NEAA puts automotive skills under the spotlight

The North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) is launching a project to tackle the looming skills shortage in the region's supply chain, which is threatening long-term growth and job creation in the industry.

The first task of the NEAA skills group will be to identify skills issues in both the current and future workforce. A pilot survey will initially find out what skills shortages companies currently face, what problems they anticipate in the next three to five years, and what work is already being done to meet their needs through education, training and up-skilling. It will then be rolled out to all NEAA member companies.

The industry led NEAA skills group brings together representatives from Nissan, Sevcon, Elring Kilinger, R-TEK, Nifco, TRW, Ford Components, Hyperdrive, Mecaplast, Unipress, JCI, CKNE, Faltec Europe, SNOP, Liebherr Cranes and Komatsu. It is chaired by Matt Boyle, president and chief executive of fast-growing Gateshead-based Sevcon, which makes motor controllers for electric and hybrid vehicles. He said:

"We are looking to attract 2,000 new people into the industry every year and it is therefore vital that we capture potential new recruits at a very young age.
"One of our key aims is to spark and interest in engineering at primary school level, and we will be developing programmes and courses to engage with youngsters across all ages."

Mr Boyle said the region needs to better support the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
"We haven't educated kids going into university and shown them how good a career in engineering can be and that it is a job for life. We're living in a region with high youth unemployment levels but there are companies like mine crying out for a pipeline of skilled workers.

"But unlike the Germans, the Americans or the Japanese we don't respect engineering skills. If you're a degree-qualified engineer overseas you're highly revered whereas here it's a case of the washing machine is broke, can you fix it? We definitely need to change that mentality.

"At 10-years-old children are thinking about being footballers but we need to start them thinking about a career in engineering."

Sevcon runs its own bursary scheme for students at Newcastle and Northumbria Universities, which covers university fees of up to £9,000 a year and offers a £35,000 a year job on completion.

Research carried out by AutoAnalysis for Sunderland City Council found that most automotive supplier faced difficulties recruiting skilled and experienced workers. The report, published in 2012, concluded that groups unable to find the skilled labour they need for their companies in the UK will take their business elsewhere.

Ensuring the future workforce has the skills the industry requires is one of the NEAA skills group's major priorities. In addition to promoting the sector and its needs in schools, colleges and universities, NEAA will be looking at further placements and apprenticeships.  A key part of this will be aligning the industry's needs with funding incentives for universities and colleges. In the long term, the group aims to help the sector develop its own skill base and back office training.

NEAA chief executive, Paul Butler, said: "Developing a skilled future workforce is crucial, but we're also aiming to help companies to up-skill their current staff, to meet demands that suppliers are facing now.

"Suppliers need to attract and retain the best talent and part of this will be improving morale through best practice and staff engagement. There are also gaps in basic skills and leadership skills, and companies are crying out for experienced tool makers, engineers and maintenance staff.

"Plugging the skills gaps in the supply chain will be absolutely vital if the region's automotive industry is to meet its potential and not lose business to other countries that already have suitably-skilled workforces in place."