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
Mr Griffiths: I am Gary Griffiths.
I am Manager for Apprenticeships and Vocational Competencies for
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
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
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
Q1046 Mr Martyn Jones: So it is not
just cross-border England and Wales, it is Germany and France
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 providersthis
is a more general question about Airbusfor 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
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
Q1050 Mark Pritchard: Telford technology
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
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
Q1055 Nia Griffith: Are you doing
anything specifically to get young women more interested in these
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
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
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
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.