The government is to offer small firms grants of £1,500 to help in supporting them to take on apprentices and plug the skills gap across UK manufacturing.
Business Secretary Vince Cable told the annual CBI conference today that while apprenticeships would not solve the skills shortage being experienced in many parts of the UK economy they were nevertheless “an important part of the solution”.
Cable said firms with fewer than 1,000 employees who had not taken on workers would be eligible for the grant as part of a strategy to get more skilled staff into the fields of engineering and manufacturing.
“There is a clear and growing demand in UK companies for specialist technical skills. Time and again, large manufacturing companies come to my department and tell me they are worried about looming shortages of skilled engineers.
“It is one of my major priorities as Business Secretary to address this problem,” he said.
Cable told the CBI conference he had been working on an ‘Industrial Strategy’ which would be part of a new long-term plan for UK industry.
“This will be underpinned by two principles: a recognition that is necessary to plan for the long-term, prioritise activities and allocate resources accordingly - just as any successful company does.
“And second, an understanding that government must work with industry to tackle genuine market failures where they occur.”
Cable said the government would be flexible in its approach: “This is not about entrenching the old industries, but rather ensuring that the UK is ready to take advantage of new opportunities as they develop.”
He argued the government had to develop “credible pathways of vocational education in schools including engineering, and to introduce school children to the importance of enterprise and entrepreneurship” in the face of “clear and growing demand” among UK companies for specialist technical skills.
Cable said the government would establish 24 University Technical Colleges by 2014 to develop the skills of people interested in engineering, science and technical disciplines.
But once educated these newcomers would need jobs and the private sector could help with industrial sandwich schemes, paid internships and individual sponsorship, he added.