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UK faces skills "tragedy" says Liebherr-Sunderland boss

18. June 2012

 Austrian crane manufacturer Liebherr-Sunderland has urged UK engineering businesses to upskill to ensure they can compete effectively in high value international markets.

Speaking at an event for contract and subcontract manufacturing, Liebherr-Sunderland managing director Ralph Sälzer said: "Unless UK manufacturers invest in their human capital, we will struggle to compete internationally and may face the tragedy of skilled jobs going overseas."

Sälzer said Liebherr was a family firm which believed in investing in its workforce and contributing to its local community. However the company had struggled to employ local staff and suppliers due to a lack of skill. So it had set up an apprenticeship scheme to develop skills that were unavailable locally.

"We had productivity gaps between our UK and Austrian operations but found that our apprenticeship scheme helped close the gap and the trainees from the UK compared well. The apprenticeship frameworks in England are very flexible which allowed us to align our training internationally which has been extremely successful. We now have 26 apprentices.

"The UK manufacturing sector is currently holding its own on an international level but there is a huge need to upskill particularly at craft and technician level and to recruit fresh talent to replace skills lost through retirements in an aging workforce.

"We need to persuade young people and their advisors that apprenticeships are an ideal start to a career. In Germany and Switzerland around one fifth of all 16-24 year olds are in apprenticeship, in Austria the figure is 15% while England has less than 10% of the group in apprenticeship."

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