Cross-border provision of public services for Wales: Further and higher education - Welsh Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1041-1059)


7 OCTOBER 2008

  Q1041 Chairman: Good morning. For the record could you introduce yourselves, please?

  Mr Fleming: I am Michael Fleming. I am the Head of Employment Training and Competencies for Airbus UK.

  Mr Griffiths: I am Gary Griffiths. I am Manager for Apprenticeships and Vocational Competencies for Airbus UK.

  Q1042  Chairman: Could I place on record our thanks not only for you coming along but for the very warm welcome Airbus gave us when we visited you some months ago now. We are very conscious of the fact that you are right on the border and that is the first question that I wish to ask of you. What impact has devolution had on Airbus as an employer on the Wales/England border?

  Mr Fleming: Personally, we have had some excellent good practice within Wales on what we have been doing with local education, with our colleges and universities. The impact for me is we are moving away from Airbus Broughton, Airbus Filton, Airbus UK, and we are now a very large trans-national organisation and we are trying to promote that to young people. The opportunities are far wider than just in Wales. That is really for you to understand the direction we are taking as Airbus. We are always seen as two separate sites. My organisation now is responsible for a service to the UK, so obviously it is more and more difficult to work across border with a devolved administration.

  Q1043  Mr Martyn Jones: Is SEMTA, your Sector Skills Council, well-equipped to deal with cross-border issues?

  Mr Fleming: We have got an excellent working relationship with SEMTA and, yes, they are very well-equipped, I think mainly because we are within the aerial sector.

  Q1044  Mr Martyn Jones: That is good to hear. Do you think there is a need for additional cross-border structures, such as the Mersey Dee Alliance, to improve co-ordination of cross-border education provision?

  Mr Fleming: It is not something I would comment on. It is not something I have thought about.

  Q1045  Mr Martyn Jones: You are aware of the Mersey Dee Alliance?

  Mr Griffiths: Yes. We have representation on the Mersey Dee Alliance and it makes a lot of sense, especially for the FE colleges and the universities to have a relationship. Just to expand upon that slightly, we have also developed a good relationship between our FE college in north Wales and the FE college in the south-west of England. Our next step, just to confirm something that Mick was just saying, we are also now working with a college in Bremen in Germany as well. We are looking at it from a completely different landscape than perhaps very localised within one area.

  Q1046  Mr Martyn Jones: So it is not just cross-border England and Wales, it is Germany and France possibly.

  Mr Griffiths: We do welcome the FE colleges and universities working together to support businesses and ourselves especially.

  Q1047  Mark Pritchard: How would you describe the future of Airbus in the United Kingdom, and in particular in Wales, given the competition from other providers—this is a more general question about Airbus—for example, Boeing? On the military side we have had the stalling of the aircraft refuelling programme which obviously will have an impact over your companies globally, but also the internal difficulties through some of the delays on the delivery of civilian aircraft projects? How do you think that plays for Airbus as a company in the medium to long-term against external competition and internal, shall we say, difficulties?

  Mr Fleming: Looking at Broughton specifically there is some very, very positive future strategic direction for the plant. We went through quite a reorganisation within the whole of Airbus. Within that we were looking at creating sites with a prime responsibility. From a Broughton point of view, Broughton came out very, very high and it is now the prime site for wing assembly. With that, the site is now creating opportunities for investment. We have a West Factory, as you know, for the A380, we have the East Factory for our single aisle aircraft but we are currently building a North Factory for the A350 composite wing. The future opportunities at Broughton are excellent. We are currently looking at further recruitment opportunities to bring more people on to the Broughton site.

  Mr Griffiths: For this year we will target to be making 473 aircraft for Airbus. We are about 50/50 with Boeing, with our main competitor, at this moment in time. The rate increases for next year are well in excess of 500 and going even higher for the following year. At the moment our build programmes are looking good for the foreseeable future and in the short-term. What we need to understand is what will happen with regards to the credit crunch and the fuel costs, and that will have a big impact on how companies, airlines especially in the future, will be buying their aircraft. At the moment our build programmes are excellent and are growing year on year. We are increasing our workforce for this year by a further 100 between now and Christmas, and in the New Year and spring by about 120.

  Q1048  Mark Pritchard: I do not know if you had time to read the Leitch Report of last year about the skills mix within the United Kingdom. There are quite a lot of skills shortages and engineering still, whilst getting better, does perhaps have a bad press, it does not attract people into engineering, particularly women from some of the Russell Group universities, perhaps young undergraduates studying physics, say, or whatever. Given the other competition that I have not mentioned thus far, Brazilian manufacturers, and even Russia now make jets and are getting better and moving into medium range aircraft, do you think given their wider pool of engineers in the medium to long-term it is going to have an impact on you meeting your orders as a company compared to those other companies coming into the marketplace, having the skills already in place, being able to deliver projects on time and on budget?

  Mr Griffiths: We are committed to growing our own engineers both through an apprenticeship but also through our degree programme. We are bringing people in with degrees and putting them on a two year programme to support activities that we need within engineering. I am fairly confident that within Airbus we will be able to meet the changes in technology and our build programme with the engineers and plans and strategy we have got developed.

  Q1049  Mark Pritchard: Two brief points. One, are you aware of the technology corridor in Shropshire? I am a Shropshire MP, a border MP, so I have got to mention that. There are some real engineering skills, as you are probably aware, at RAF Cosford and MoD Donnington and other places, and going into Wolverhampton where it has a history of engineering and technological expertise. Is there any cross-border co-operation? The second brief question is, do you currently use training providers from France coming into Wales to provide training?

  Mr Griffiths: In answer to the first part of the question, I have had meetings and some discussion with the universities from the M54 area. I forget what it is called now.

  Q1050  Mark Pritchard: Telford technology corridor.

  Mr Griffiths: We have looked at what they can do with regard to our composite development. We are encouraging them to come into our composite consortium once we get that established fully. The second part of the question was?

  Q1051  Mark Pritchard: France.

  Mr Griffiths: France coming in. I am not aware that we use any training providers from France. It is the opposite really, our Lean Learning Academy has now been set up in Toulouse and Germany as well, so we are sending the other way around.

  Q1052  Nia Griffith: In the very detailed brief that you have given us you explain some of the difficulties dealing with cross-border with apprenticeship issues. Obviously we know the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills on the English side is implementing changes in that programme. What would you like to see happen on the Welsh side of the border in respect of that programme in order to make the programme better and facilitate things for yourselves as well?

  Mr Griffiths: There needs to be clarity really. We need to understand what strategy WAG is going to have to respond to what happened in England. I am quite aware that as a devolved administration, from an employers' perspective they do not need to respond to something that has happened in another administration but we need to have some clarity around the direction in which they plan to go so that we can develop our strategy to meet across the UK our needs for apprenticeships and other training activities as well.

  Q1053  Nia Griffith: Can I perhaps follow that up. You mentioned also that simply on the ground you do not get Careers Wales and Connexions doing joint events and things which in your case would be beneficial. Would you like to see much more collaboration there?

  Mr Griffiths: Absolutely.

  Mr Fleming: Definitely.

  Q1054  Nia Griffith: Further to that, there still seems to be this emphasis on sending academic children down one route and there does not seem to be enough training perhaps of either schoolteachers or of careers advisers in the career paths that are open through companies like yourselves. Would you see a need for possibly some joint training linked to employers' needs and driven by employers' needs to take the focus off the individual finding their path for their future and trying to bridge that skills gap we have been talking about? How could you see that actually operating?

  Mr Griffiths: We already do that. We bring teachers and careers advisers from both sides of the border to our site in Broughton and we identify the areas that we need them to concentrate on. We said in the evidence that what they tend to do is work with the individuals, the students, as opposed to working with employers and we are trying to rectify that by bringing them onto our site, working with them in some workshops and encouraging them to understand what our needs are.

  Mr Fleming: Just to add to that, any additional support that can be given to an employer to increase that awareness would be greatly received. It is an initiative we do where we have work experience for teachers, but an employer can only do so much. We really do need to educate teachers and schools about the opportunities in engineering. We are developing now the higher engineering apprenticeship more which is looking at NVQ level or Level 4 foundation degree type activities. The people in the schools and teachers are not aware of these types of opportunities.

  Q1055  Nia Griffith: Are you doing anything specifically to get young women more interested in these careers?

  Mr Griffiths: We are embarking with Middlewich at this moment in time, which is an English initiative looking at trying to get women into engineering, and next week we are working on a DVD to try and encourage that. It is the influences, such as the parents and teachers, we need to be working with. We need to get them to understand that apprenticeships are not just for low achievers, or even medium achievers, but also for high achievers. Our higher apprenticeship requirements are six GCSEs at grade B and above and two A levels at grade C and above. We are in competition with the decent universities for the same students. The schools encourage young people to go to university as a means of getting a degree as opposed to coming through an apprenticeship such as ours. I do not think our apprenticeship is marketed through either the Welsh Assembly Government or UK Westminster Government sufficiently. I notice there was no mention of a higher apprenticeship in the proposal that is going through on the Apprenticeship Bill in Westminster.

  Q1056  Nia Griffith: Presumably it is less of a financial burden if a student goes via you to get this type of degree than going straight to university.

  Mr Griffiths: Absolutely.

  Q1057  Nia Griffith: Therefore, is there any influence in the fact that funding is applied in a different way for students on the Welsh side of the border than in the way it is provided for students on the English side of the border when they go to university? In other words, if you are a Welsh-based student going to a Welsh-based university you get your fees paid. Do you think that has an influence on whether they would choose to come to you instead?

  Mr Griffiths: When young people are making a decision to come on to a higher apprenticeship they have really thought through what it is they want out of it and, yes, the cost burden is something they do take into consideration, but they also look at the other aspects of our apprenticeship and the fact that they get some vocational development, the fact they are working with a large organisation and are able to work in Germany and France as part of their apprenticeship as well. It is not purely a financial decision that they are making, they are making a decision that they want to come to our apprenticeship so they can work for an organisation such as ours and have the benefits of the overall apprenticeship rather than just having a degree and then having to do some additional work once they have completed their degree. I think that needs to be taken into consideration.

  Q1058  Nia Griffith: How effectively does SEMTA, your Sector Skills Council, engage with you and educational providers? Is there any way you can see improvements could be made there?

  Mr Griffiths: The experiences that we have with SEMTA are excellent. We have got an excellent relationship with them. We sit on a number of their strategic groups. I sit on a four nations group looking at issues that are affecting the UK as a whole as well. The work that we do with them in conjunction with our FE colleges and even HE university as well is second to none. There is some development that needs to take place with regard to the activities that are happening from a lobbying point of view. One of our chief execs sits on the SEMTA board so we have been able to influence it from that direction as well. It is an excellent relationship that is working well.

  Q1059  Albert Owen: A few years ago this Committee undertook an inquiry into manufacturing in Wales and Airbus UK gave evidence to that. One of the concerns from Airbus was the lack of basic skills for 16 year olds and 18 year olds who are taking up apprenticeships. Is that still a problem? Is there a differential between Welsh students and English students? Are basic skills still a big issue for you, numeracy and literacy, or has that improved? Are you finding that you are getting a better quality of apprentices with basic skills when they come to you?

  Mr Griffiths: There is still an issue with regards to how the GCSEs are preparing people with regard to their basic skills. I notice in the Skills That Work for Wales they are aiming to address that by ensuring that basic skills are incorporated into GCSEs within Wales. It will be interesting to see how that moves forward in the future. We have not really done any work on identifying necessarily where the students are from before they join us to see whether it is better in England or Wales, but when we have people joining our apprenticeships we do find they come in and we require from them at least four GCSEs and that must include English, maths and science, and we would therefore expect they are going to be on a Level 2 for their literacy and numeracy and we find that the majority of them are on Level 1 and we have even had some that are on entry Level 3. There is some remedial work that our FE colleges have to do in order to get them in a position so they can develop through their apprenticeship and the academic rigour that is going to be required. It is still a problem. We have not done an assessment with the new intake as yet, but certainly for last year it was 90% who were not at the level that we expected them to be.

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