The recently published 2017 UK Casting Industry Census shows that the industry continues to face a significant challenge when it comes to skills and staffing. 47% of firms in the sector reported that recruitment and technical skills is one of their key challenges. This figure is 50% higher than the 30% figure reported in the Longitudinal Small Business Survey Panel Report for 2016 (1) across the SMEs questioned. It is also mirrored by the recent report from Engineering UK 2018 – the State of Engineering, published by Engineering UK, which reports an annual shortfall of between 37 and 59 thousand engineering technicians and graduates.
“This concern over skills and recruitment is, sadly, not a surprise,” said Pam Murrell, CEO for the Cast Metals Federation, who commissioned the census. “We know that the lack of investment in training, succession planning and knowledge capture is now starting to be a major obstacle to the development of the sector, at a time when the demands on the industry, for higher quality, highly engineered components, is growing and offers significant opportunities. The automotive industry for example (a major user of castings) is undergoing significant change through light-weighting and the move towards hybrid and electrically powered vehicles and this change will require a host of new parts to be designed and manufactured for the sector. At the same time, there is increased emphasis on ‘right first time’ manufacture and near net shape design – all of which require skilled craftsmen and technicians not to mention castings engineers and designers.
“Many of our companies have taken the initiative to train apprentices and indeed we have one or two excellent programmes that have been developed in-house – and the census also indicates that 484 apprentices have been taken on by foundries, representing 2.87% of the total employees in the sector.
“However, this does not mean that the future of the industry is assured – far from it. Many of these apprentices are on general engineering programmes which are not able to offer teaching of the specialist skills required to assemble complex moulds and control liquid metal in an inherently turbulent process, with many variables. The numbers of learners are still too low to ensure a sufficient pipeline of talent for the approximate 25,000 employees (*) in the industry, and many smaller foundries have not been able to access appropriate programmes in their area.”
Fortunately, these findings come just at the time when the UK casting industry has a new training centre, the National Foundry Training Centre, part of the Elite Centre for Manufacturing Skills, ECMS Ltd. This innovative centre is being equipped with modern facilities for teaching casting, foundry and patternmaking skills at all levels and is the first specialised national centre for the industry for over 25 years. In addition, a new apprentice standard has been approved which will also provide a structured programme for development of young apprentices entering the industry and will offer both day-release and block-release programmes that will be accessible to companies from all parts of the UK. The centre will also enable practical short courses to be offered at all levels to support the development of employees in the industry.
The 2017 Casting Industry Census was commissioned by the Cast Metals Federation and compiled by the Enterprise Research Centre, ERC, University of Warwick Business School, from data supplied by foundries. The data was collected during late 2017 and the census was published in July 2018.
CMF Member foundries represent every part of the sector and manufacture around 85% of all castings produced in the UK. Ranging from global foundry groups to small jobbing foundries, CMF Member foundries supply precision finished parts and assemblies in a range of sizes, metals and process to the UK and global markets and generate sales revenues of at least £1.89billion.