Lack of skills bigger challenge than Brexit, say manufacturers

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Prince William helps fit an airbag to a McLaren car with apprentice of the year nominee, Alex Machin, on the factory floor in Woking on 12 September 2017. (Chris J Ratcliffe/AFP via Getty Images)

A lack of skilled workers is a bigger challenge for UK manufacturing than Brexit, according to the head of a leading industry group.

Stephen Phipson CBE, head of Make UK, said: “Every time you survey our members, every time you ask the question, the number one issues is skills, not Brexit. We need to concentrate on that issue.”

Phipson’s comments came during the keynote address at Make UK’s annual conference in London on Tuesday.

Make UK, which represents 20,000 manufacturers across the country, surveyed members ahead of the conference and found that 46.5% wanted more incentives from the government to recruit apprentices.

Phipson, who himself began as an apprentice aged 16, is due to meet chancellor Rishi Sunak on Thursday and Phipson said he would ask him for help addressing the skills gap.

Read more: Manufacturers ask new chancellor Rishi Sunak for help in budget

“I’m committed to putting this skills agenda at the heart of government,” Phipson said. “Whatever opportunities we get from the new global Britain, we need a workforce with the skills to deliver it.

“Growing talent and skills is right at the top of our agenda.”

A survey by the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) last year found the UK manufacturing sector facing its biggest skills shortage for 30 years. Brexit and a lack of training for young recruits has been blamed.

Phipson warned Brexit could make the skills shortage worse in the short term.

“The challenges are only getting tougher,” he said. “Outside the EU access to skilled labour will become harder and more expensive, we’ve seen that in the immigration proposals that the government’s got now.”

Read more: The UK's new points-based immigration system explained

The government has announced a new points-based immigration system that will take effect from January 2020. Under the new system, migrants looking to come to the UK must at a minimum speak English, have a job offer, and earn at least £25,600 (£33,137) in role.