James Clark, secretary-general of the British Industrial Truck Association (BITA), addresses the importance of training – and how to avoid a skills shortage in the future.
With the UK economy growing by 1.9% in 2013 – the fastest rate of growth since 2007 – the signs of an improving business climate are now becoming clearer. As we steadily move out of one of the longest and deepest recessions in many years, it is now time to think about the challenges that growth, rather than contraction, present for businesses.
It is understandable that, since the downturn in 2008, companies have been focused on keeping their heads above water in difficult times, so training and recruitment have been low on the agenda. But problems associated with an ageing workforce are now beginning to emerge in the materials handling sector, where the skills loss caused by experienced forklift engineers retiring is beginning to bite, with potentially far-reaching implications for the bottom line.
Technological advances in fork lift truck design, and the development of advanced warehouse storage and retrieval systems, have also required engineers to gain new skills in order to maintain equipment effectively, in compliance with legislation.
ALTERNATIVE CAREER PATH
The most recent statistics for England, published by the Department for Education, show 17.2% of 19-24 year olds are not in employment, education or training – the so-called NEETS. And with increasing university tuition fees, more graduates coming onto the jobs market, and fewer graduate jobs available, many young people are looking for an alternative career path.
Employers are now consistently stating that they prize practical knowledge and experience above all else. As a result vocational education is making a comeback from what most people now acknowledge was the overly heavy focus on academic degree courses at the expense of vocational learning.
So the pool of young people is there – and the need to replace the retiring and ageing workforce, and even expand it as the economy continues to grow, has been identified. Now is the time to take training seriously, either through apprenticeships, or by equipping existing staff to take on more senior skilled roles.
It is vital that lift truck companies realise that investing in apprenticeships is always money well spent, as those who take action now are making the best possible kind of investment in the future success of their business.
Training can pay dividends in a number of ways, from improved working processes generating greater efficiencies, to improved safety awareness leading to fewer accidents and fewer lost employee days as a result. And that’s not to mention the risk of fines for safety breaches, which can run into tens of thousands of pounds, or even the threat of corporate manslaughter charges, with all of the adverse publicity that can result.
Approximately 45% of senior managers in UK fork lift truck companies started their careers as engineering apprentices. Vocational training is not a poor relation to an academic degree: it is every bit as valuable – and in our industry it is actually one of the primary routes to career success.
Such is our belief in the importance of training – and securing the managers of tomorrow – we have just announced a ground-breaking partnership with our fellow lift truck trade association, the FLTA, to create a new and valuable training resource for the whole industry (see the news story on page 6 of this issue). By taking a collaborative approach we will create the best training framework to meet the needs of all UK materials handling companies.
This is a bold step, but one we think is vital. Now that we have stepped up to the plate for training, isn’t it time for you and your business to do the same?