I have been finalising plans for the big manufacturing summit which will take place in Burnley. It’s great that we’ve been able to get the summit here – it’s a real coup for the town.
The summit will include senior politicians, manufacturing and engineering firms including BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and Westland Helicopters. Everything that is good about Burnley will be on show. Burnley has some world-class engineering and manufacturing firms and I want to see our town become the example of how things should be done.
Local schools will be at the event and it will be a good opportunity for Burnley College to show what it can do. We have also asked local schools to give presentations and bring students to listen to people in the industry, with a view to taking up apprenticeships.
The main aim of the meeting is to look at the current manufacturing situation, how manufacturing and industry can be developed in Burnley and across the country, and how to increase skills, particularly through apprenticeships.
A huge problem at the moment is that currently there are skilled jobs out there, but we simply don’t have people with the right skills to fit them. Manufacturing firms have work and need skilled workers – we need to increase apprentices to fill these positions.
At the end of the week I raised this crucial issue in Parliament, raising the experiences of Burnley firms. I became an apprentice craft engineer when I left school at 15. These really are the types of jobs we need now. We have stacks of young people leaving university with higher qualifications, but in engineering we do not have the skilled people coming through to make the products the academics design. In Lancashire there is a huge demand for skilled engineers – and it is vital we train our young people for these positions, and we replace people who are retiring.
An apprentice is a real investment for a firm. I hope the Government will continue the welcome expansion in apprenticeships, and investment in manufacturing – and Burnley firms take up the challenge and recruit an apprentice.
Another crucially important thing we need to do is provide young people with the careers advice they need at an early stage to plan for their future and encourage young women and men to take up careers in science, technology, engineering and maths. I questioned Vince Cable on this and his response was encouraging: the Government is working to provide a properly accredited system of careers advice, and is investing an extra £180m. in creating 50,000 new higher apprenticeships in these sectors. Furthermore, I was very encouraged to hear the recent announcements from Nissan and BMW of large new investments in British manufacturing.
I visited the Territorial Army in Blackburn and discussed the possibility of bringing a TA base back to Burnley, something I am currently looking into. The former TA base in Burnley was lost several years ago – bringing a TA base back would benefit the town and be good for local people who wish to get Army experience, and the discipline and sense of purpose this can bring.