Wednesday, March 7, 2012

News: AMRC hosts government apprenticeships inquiry


The government's Business, Innovation and Skills Committee has learnt of the need for more support and new national standards for engineering apprenticeships at the University of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing (AMRC) in Rotherham.

The AMRC Factory of the Future on the Advanced Manufacturing Park hosted the first ever Commons Select Committee evidence gathering session to be held outside London.

Adrian Bailey MP is chair of the committee that is holding a major inquiry into apprenticeships. He said: "Apprenticeships can help equip young people throughout the UK with the skills necessary to drive forward broad and sustained economic growth, spread across a range of sectors and across the entire country.

"We need to look at what is working and where the current structure is falling short, not only for companies running apprenticeship schemes but for apprentices themselves."

The AMRC is a world-class centre for advanced machining and materials research for aerospace and other high-value manufacturing sectors. It is a lead partner in the government's new Catapult centre that brings together expertise in different and complementary areas of high value manufacturing.

Up to six apprentices are taken on each year. The apprenticeship programme has been running for five years and so far 11 have completed the programme. One is working in industry and the other ten are working as technicians and engineers within the AMRC and Nuclear AMRC.

Keith Ridgway, research director at the AMRC, told the committee: "There's been a huge recognition in the past few years that the skills base is getting older. We are all getting older, and there is nobody coming through that younger age group. We see that all the time."

In response, the AMRC has secured government funding for a £20.5m training centre for advanced manufacturing that will focus on high-level apprentice training, concentrating on sectors such as aerospace, energy and Formula One.

From next autumn, over 200 apprentices will enter the centre each year, where they will receive nine to 12 months of intensive skills training.

Lewis Nicholson, who completed his apprenticeship at the AMRC and is now working as a qualified technician, talked about his experiences. "I've been here six years and have never stopped learning," he said. "You can take it as far as you want to go, so long as the company's behind you."

Richard Caborn, the former Sheffield MP and now an advisor to the AMRC, underlined the need for national standards for engineering apprenticeships, of a kind provided by the Engineering Industry Training Board (EITB) until the early 1990s.

Caborn told the committee: "We've got to define what an apprenticeship is – it's got to be valued, properly policed, have a national programme of achievement, and funded in a way that's a partnership between government and the private sector. That ownership of national standards is very important.

"We don't believe in this country we have these national standards. If we are serious about moving the per capita GDP of manufacturing nearer to that of Germany, there has to be that kind of intervention to make that happen."

Managers and apprentices from local manufacturers Sheffield Forgemasters International, Firth Rixson, Newburgh Engineering and AESSEAL also gave evidence to the committee.

AMRC website



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