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back to index backEUROtalk March,  2017


Britain seeks to plug skills shortages sapping productivity

British manufacturer Grainger & Worrall makes millions of pounds casting complex aluminium engine blocks for Formula One and other high-performance cars. But it has hit a problem when it comes to a more basic issue: finding skilled workers.

The company recently bought a new robot to trim the rough edges off 150 kg (330 lb) metal blocks and match the levels of automation and productivity of factories in Germany and France. However, this has turned out to be tricky to use in practice.

"We've struggled with it because we don't have the skill sets and understanding to use robotics in that fashion," said Matthew Snelson, Grainger's quality director.

He was speaking at the firm's headquarters near Bridgnorth, a semi-rural part of central England, a few miles from where advances in iron smelting during the Industrial Revolution turned Britain into one of the world's mightiest economies in the 19th century.


To view "UK Productivity" graph, please click here.


Now the country is facing up to new challenges as it prepares to leave the European Union, a leap into the unknown that has underscored the urgency of tackling one its long-standing economic weaknesses.

On Wednesday Chancellor Philip Hammond is expected to detail an extra 500 million pounds a year in funding for technical education in his annual budget, aimed at developing the skills of 16 to 19-year-olds. This is in addition to existing plans to boost apprenticeships.

Skills shortages are a major reason why the productivity of the average worker during an hour at work trails that of employees in most other big advanced economies.

Some of the biggest shortages are in vocational skills which do not require a university education but are learnt through practical training focused on a trade, such as operating complex machinery, vehicle mechanics or bricklaying.

British productivity in 2015 - defined as national economic output divided by the total number of hours worked - was 27 percent below that in France, 30 percent beneath U.S. levels and 35 percent lower than Germany.

Most economists view productivity gains as the main driver of long-term economic growth and improved living standards.

Since the global financial crisis, productivity growth has been weak across major economies, but particularly so in Britain, where wages have barely grown in real terms for almost a decade - something last seen in the 19th century.

Tackling weak productivity and a shortage of home-grown skills is now a growing priority for Britain's government, especially as its exit from the European Union is likely to make it harder for firms to import workers to plug skill gaps.

APPRENTICES

Funding for technical education in Wednesday's budget would be welcome news for Grainger & Worrall, which has struggled to find enough skilled staff to keep up with sales that have tripled to 50 million pounds since 2009.

The company is now looking for funding to set up a larger centre to train apprentices.

While more Britons go to university than in most of the European Union, technical education lags behind, and employers said in 2015 they were unable to fill 20 percent of vacancies due to skills shortages, up from 15 percent in 2011.

To read entire article, please click here.

Source: Reuters - GAI


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