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100% of Norfolk manufacturers report recruitment difficulties - but is the onus on them?

PUBLISHED: 16:09 10 October 2018 | UPDATED: 16:47 10 October 2018

Richard Bridgman training apprentices at Warren Services in Thetford. Picture: C/O Richard Bridgman

Richard Bridgman training apprentices at Warren Services in Thetford. Picture: C/O Richard Bridgman

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Norfolk’s manufacturing sector is in the midst of a recruitment crisis, with 100% of companies surveyed in a major review saying they are having difficulty finding the right staff.

Richard Bridgman, right, shows guests round Warren Services' second Thetford facility that houses assembly and paint finishing operations for the firm. Picture: Warren Services.Richard Bridgman, right, shows guests round Warren Services' second Thetford facility that houses assembly and paint finishing operations for the firm. Picture: Warren Services.

Norfolk’s manufacturers say the sector is in the midst of a recruitment crisis, with 100% of companies surveyed in a major review reporting difficulties in finding the right staff.

The Quarterly Economic Survey (QES), published by the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce as part of national findings, has found that the proportion of companies recruiting has fallen 10 points to 75%, and that the percentage of respondent companies spending on training has risen “drastically” from 5% to 30% to cover skills gaps.

Similar findings were revealed in the service sector, with the amount of firms looking to recruit falling nine points to 73%, and around 20% of respondents funding training. Some 84% said they were struggling to find the right staff.

But Richard Bridgman, founder of Thetford’s Warren Services, who this year was made an OBE for services to training young people, said that the onus was on firms to stop “whinging” about the shortage, and “get involved” in bringing young people into work.

He said: “Every company in the country can’t recruit skilled staff. We’ve got a problem with employment shortages and we’ve got to make the most of what we’ve got.”

Mr Bridgman, who is a member of the New Anglia LEP Skills Board, said that often companies did not take on apprentices because the process is “too complicated”.

He said it was a result of continuing changes to the apprenticeship levy, which was altered again in June this year when the government announced large employers could transfer 10% of their levy funds to multiple smaller businesses.

“Some firms say they won’t pay for training because the employees will leave,” he added. “Nine times out of 10 the apprentices we take on stay with the company for a long time. This is because they come to us on work experience, we get to know them and they get to know whether they enjoy the work.”

He added that while degrees were valued, individuals had to make more informed choices about their futures. “Lots of school leavers at 16 or 18 want to do a degree, but it’s not a degree that the country needs, and which doesn’t necessarily lead to jobs.

“Perception is the main problem, because the manufacturing industry is thought of as being quite dirty but it’s not now – it’s much cleaner.”

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