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Where's the plastics industry's new blood going to come from?

By Hamish Champ
Posted 8 November 2012

One of the issues I encounter on my travels round the UK plastics industry is this: where is the next generation of technicians, engineers and plant operators going to come from?

I’m delighted when I read of companies like O-ring manufacturer Superior creating an apprentice academy, and I know lots of other companies are thinking about or even better are in the process of taking on youngsters whom such firms hope will stick around to make a difference both for themselves and the business.

But there remain gaps to be filled, both in terms of the numbers of young people entering manufacturing and how companies go about planning for when their experienced members of staff decide to retire.

On the subject of apprentice schemes at least there are stirrings among those who might have some influence over the way such things are funded and operated.

MPs on the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee this week reported that the government’s scheme for apprenticeships, while laudable and showing signs of success, needed an overhaul.

More co-operation and better engagement between the government’s National Apprenticeship Scheme (NAS) and small businesses was needed, the report argued, while funding issues needed to be addressed.

Indeed the overall system needs to be addressed quickly, if those who might take up the challenge of working as an apprentice are to be suitably encouraged to do so.

Growing numbers of manufacturing firms, many of which are small and/or family-owned, have what some describe as the equivalent of a ticking time bomb sitting in the corner of their workshop.

An experienced workforce is obviously a great benefit for many companies. Old(er) hands can teach new ones the tricks of the trade.

The key issue is about ensuring that enough new hands come into the sector in time for when the old(er) hands want to go off and play golf every day; that and recognising such young ‘uns have the talent and commitment potential to want to carve out a career in a company.

Of course there are young people already working in the plastics industry. I’m proud that two categories in the annual Plastics Industry Awards, which PRW organises, recognise young designers and trainees/apprentices.

There are clearly some young people who believe they have future in manufacturing and its related activities. This is obviously encouraging.

But this should not detract from a wholehearted commitment to keep the industry's new blood flowing and planning for its future.

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