The WMCA launches Automotive Skills Plan with £3m boost for supply chain businesses

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has launched its first Automotive Skills Plan alongside a £3m skills boost for the region’s automotive supply chain businesses.

There are 1,100 automotive businesses in the West Midlands, which contribute £3.2bn* to the regional economy and employ 46,000 staff.

The WMCA wants to ensure the region’s automotive businesses remain competitive, are ready to adopt emerging new technologies, and have the chance to upskill and reskill staff to help attract investment.

The WMCA launches Automotive Skills Plan with £3m boost for supply chain businesses

Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street with Nick Abell, vice chair of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, at the launch of the Automotive Skills Plan at FANUC UK

To support this ambition, the WMCA today launched its Automotive Skills Plan at the Ansty base of automation company FANUC UK. The event also marked the first meeting of the West Midlands Automotive Task Force, convened to improve productivity and skill levels in the region’s automotive industry.

The launch of the Automotive Skills Plan comes just weeks after Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) confirmed it would produce a new line of electric vehicles in the West Midlands – safeguarding thousands of jobs.

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “The automotive industry is incredibly important to the West Midlands, and the businesses working here employ 28% of the UK’s overall automotive sector. We are, as JLR proved with its Castle Bromwich commitment, the country’s premier car manufacturing region.

“We have done, and will continue to do, all we can to support the major players like JLR, but the vast majority of those employed in our automotive industry work within the supply chain which is where we want to focus our support with this latest funding.

“This £3m fund will act as a catalyst to help future-proof thousands of jobs in the automotive sector, helping employees gain the skills needed to keep the West Midlands at the forefront of the global automotive industry.”

The £3m training fund has come from the ‘Beat the Bots’ digital retraining fund and £126m adult education budget, devolved from central government to the WMCA for the first time for the 2019/20 academic year.

The WMCA says the automotive skills fund will be used to provide training for new automotive staff, and to help re-train existing skilled workers in the supply chain.

Dr Chris Owen, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) Industry Forum, said: “The pace of emerging technology means that developing supply chain workforce capability has become even more vital to maintain international competitiveness.”

Alan Yee, engineering director at Contechs automotive engineering firm, said: “From the beginning of education in primary school all the way to university, we are not good at preparing the population for requirements of engineering careers in the modern automotive industry, for much of what was taught in the 1970s right through to the last decade on this subject, is totally out of date now.”

The Automotive Skills Plan will help support the industry to engage with this new emerging technology – including automated, connected and electric vehicles and the digitisation of manufacturing.

It includes provision to look at a regional approach to T-level training provision – the new technician-level qualification being introduced alongside A-levels – and to encourage the development of new Institutes of Technology, like those already approved for Dudley College and Greater Birmingham and Solihull.

The plan looks to boost the number of automotive apprenticeships available in the region – using the potential £40m Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Fund to help small to medium enterprises (SMEs) within the supply chain to afford to train apprentices.

Cllr George Duggins, leader of Coventry City Council and WMCA portfolio holder for productivity and skills, said: “The automotive industry is important for the West Midlands, and particularly Coventry, where we’re leading the way on research into connected and autonomous vehicles and the automotive technologies of the future.

“The skills plan will help to bring a new focus to training in the region, ensuring we have a highly-skilled automotive workforce, while the £3m training fund will help those smaller businesses in the supply train to access training for their staff to help protect jobs.

“The West Midlands is already home to one of the world’s leading automotive industry – these new commitments from the WMCA aim to ensure we remain at the forefront of this fast-changing sector for many years to come.”

Meanwhile, the new Automotive Task Force will provide strategic leadership across the region to help tackle the biggest skills issue facing the sector.

It will include major employers (such as Jaguar Land Rover and BMW), SMEs from within the supply chain, training providers including the University of Warwick and Coventry University, the department for Business, Economy and Industrial Strategy and representatives from the Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Jonathan Browning, chair of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership and chair of the WMCA Strategic Economic Development Board, said: “The West Midlands, and in particular Coventry and Warwickshire, has a global reputation for its expertise in the automotive industry and this will help us to further attract inward investors.

“The skills plan is a major boost to the supply chain throughout the area to provide businesses with highly-skilled employees in the short and long-term which is vital for the continued success of the sector in the region.”