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Faced with the chronic skills shortage, engineering firms should take control of their own futures and establish vibrant apprenticeship and training partnerships. That is the view of Edward Grainger, a director of Grainger & Worrall (GW), the global leader in high performance automotive castings.

Operating in the highly competitive automotive component sector, Bridgnorth-based GW designs and manufacturers engine castings for the likes of Aston Martin, Bentley, McLaren and the majority of teams on the F1 grid. Despite the fact that the £50m turnover business has consistently increased its turnover by around 15% every year in recent times, attracting highly skilled engineers to maintain this growth has become a challenge.

Frustrated by the lack of skilled engineers and casting/machining technicians with experience in CAD design, CNC setting, patternmaking and production cell operation, GW initially decided to establish its own training academy. “The chronic shortage of quality engineers and casting technicians was not going to fix itself, so we decided to get behind the ‘grow your own’ strategy,” comments Edward Grainger.

Having shared this intention with other local companies, GW soon realised that joining forces with like-minded employers in the region would make much more sense. These businesses, all of whom had similar skills needs, included Classic Motor Cars Ltd and Salop Design & Engineering.

The trio of businesses partnered with In-Comm Training to form a consortium which last year secured a £1.9m contract from the Marches LEP, funded via its Growth Deal with Government, to develop the Marches Centre of Manufacturing and Technology.

Now a community interest company, the consortium has privately invested £1.1m into the development of MCMT which aims to target 2020 learners by 2020. It aims to develop apprentices in advanced manufacturing and engineering, giving employers a strong pool of skills to tap into as they continue to compete globally.

In addition to this, there will also be capacity to work with 400 companies on developing existing manufacturing professionals up to Level 7 qualifications, covering business improvement techniques, team leadership, vehicle body repair and paint, vehicle body building, technical development, quality and continuous improvement.

Edward Grainger said: “We are obviously delighted that this initiative has come to fruition after a lot of work and years of planning. It goes to show that as employers, we can all sit and bemoan the problem of the skills shortage. But nothing will change without us making things happen. I’d encourage other engineering businesses to take inspiration from this initiative, which shows that the ‘grow your own, keep your own’ philosophy can work in a manufacturing environment.

“Granted, this is no short-term fix, but we’re now able to say we will see a flow of appropriately trained student and graduate apprenticeships within three years. It should also be said that this initiative isn’t just about young people, as many of the beneficiaries will be existing employees, adult apprenticeships and those undertaking specialist training to help us meet the needs of various export markets. This will make a huge difference to our business and facilitate further growth and job creation in the Shropshire region.”