GUEST BLOG: "Young people must fall back in love with manufacturing if we're to save the UK economy"

A British Chambers of Commerce report has been issued that suggests confidence among manufacturers is at its lowest level since the depths of the recession. Despite this gloom, there is room for positivity.

Britain remains a manufacturing powerhouse, the sixth biggest in the world and makes up 15 per cent of our economy. This is twice the size of the financial services industry, and with sectors like these struggling post-recession, opportunities arise for a manufacturing renaissance.

The Advanced Manufacturing Review is aimed at growing manufacturing in the UK and increasing the proportion of the workforce seeking, and capable of, a career in manufacturing. It will see government and manufacturing working together to examine which barriers stand in the way of the sector realising its full potential.

This cannot come quickly enough. New figures reveal that just 12% of 11 to 16-year-olds understand what a career in engineering might involve. This is a disturbing statistic; young people cannot become passionate about a career path they know nothing about

Alongside a lack of education, too many young people are being persuaded to enter over-subscribed professions; contributing to youth employment. The latest figures showed a record high, with more than one in five 16 to 24-year-olds out of work and a youth unemployment rate of 20.5% compared with a general unemployment rate of 7.9%.

Manufacturing needs greater education and teaching for young people, and more access to skills and training. Schools must shake off the dreary perception of design and technology, and promote the innovative and exciting elements, so more opt for this subject at GCSE level.

For our industry to recover we also need talented engineers, but currently just 4% of undergraduates study engineering - which is not enough to sustain a good talent pool for industry.

James Dyson argues that the UK is no longer proud of our manufacturing heritage. We no longer wish for our children to grow up to be engineers, and we need to rediscover the power of manufacturing, its impact and contribution.

The young are curious about how and why things work, and we need to encourage and stimulate this rather than placing so much emphasis on directing young people towards careers in finance, law or medicine.

There are other practical considerations as to why the education system should do more to inform young people about a career in manufacturing. With rising tuition fees soon to come into force, and recent figures revealing that one in six graduates already regret accumulating student debts, young people need fresh career alternatives.

Our industry can also play a key role in promoting new career opportunities to young people. At Sharpak, our apprenticeship scheme has benefited local youngsters. We started the scheme because we identified a shortage of good, young trainee engineers, and we also wanted to create employment and training opportunities for students in the area.

Our successful apprentices show that young people are passionate about engineering. Our industry has a part to play, providing a place of employment to develop skills through viable 'earn as you learn' apprenticeship options.

We are laying the foundations of economic recovery as a country - but now we must do more to ensure the next generation has in place the passion for engineering, the tools, and knowledge in order to build on this.

Find out more about Sharpak Yate, Bridgwater and Holland

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