The Advanced Manufacturing Sector in Greater Manchester: Employer Survey

The Advanced Manufacturing Sector in Greater Manchester: Employer Survey




Greater Manchester’s Priority Sectors research has involved analysis of data on the size and composition of each priority sector and its workforce, collation of secondary literature relating to skills priorities within each sector, and a survey of college and training providers who are active within the priority sectors.

To ensure that the views of employers are represented in the research, in summer 2013 a survey of employers within each of the priority sectors was undertaken. Employers were given the opportunity to complete a survey over the phone or face-to-face with a representative from a local training provider. In total, 710 employer surveys were completed. A copy of the survey questionnaire is attached as an appendix.


Total responses

123 advanced manufacturing sector employer questionnaires were completed. By sub-sector, the total number of responses breaks down as follows:

  • Engineering activities and related technical consultancy, 24 (20%)
  • Manufacture of chemicals and chemical products, 6 (5%)
  • Manufacture of computer, electronic and optical products, 2 (2%)
  • Manufacture of machinery and equipment, 9 (7%)
  • Other manufacturing activities, 35 (28%)
  • Repair and installation of machinery and equipment, 46 (37%)
  • Manufacture of other transport equipment, 1 (1%)

When we compare the profile of responses to the profile of the sector provided by official data we find that our survey sample is reflective of the overall sector composition, with the exception of companies involved in the ‘manufacture of computer, electronic and optical products’. This sub-sector is under-represented in our survey sample.

When asked to specify exactly what activity took place onsite, there was a variety of answers, including various engineering activities (electrical, maintenance and repair, distribution and precision engineering) as well as manufacturing related to food, machines, tools, health products, hydraulics and pneumatics, automotive mechanics, plastics, sheet metals and wood recycling.

Numbers of employees

The smallest advanced manufacturingsector company we surveyed had 1employee, the largest had 650 employees. The 123 companies employed a total of 5,454 employees, meaning the average company size within the sector was 45 employees. In comparison, the average company size across the whole survey (n=710) was 19employees.

Company status

103 respondents (84%) said that they were an independent company (i.e. not owned by/part of a larger company). Across the survey as a whole, 73% of respondents said they were an independent company.


Current level of engagement with learning and training providers

85% of the advanced manufacturingsector companies surveyed said that they felt engaged with training and learning providers. This compares to 79% across all nine sectors covered by the survey.

24% said that they worked with their sector skills councilsor skills academies (including colleges and universities, and Skills Solutions); this figure compares to an all-sectors rate of 25%.

Those that are currently engaged with external training providers mentioned benefits including:

“[Training providers offer] development support alongside the business”

“[A] defined education route to support professional development”

“Better training gives us more flexibility which in turn gives us better productivity”

“Providers can source and vet candidates thereby saving the company some time and also supervise the apprentices during their learning period”

Reasons given for not currently engaging included:

“[We are a]verysmall business [with a] lack of funds [and] low turnover of staff”

84% of advanced manufacturingsector companies surveyed said that training providers were able to respond to their business skills needs. In terms of making this responsiveness better, the companies suggested that training providers should:

  • Gain a closer understanding of how business operates and the demands put upon employees;
  • Listen to what businesses need and adapt programmes to suit those needs, including funding (for example, for specialist skills such as advanced driving courses), and mentoring qualifications;
  • Take a more rounded interest in the businesses they are dealing with, looking past headline numbers; and
  • Offer more filtering of recruitment candidates, to ensure a better qualityof potential recruits for businesses to choose from.

Prevalence of in house training

77% of the advanced manufacturingsector companies we surveyed said that they carried out in-house training (which compares to an all-sector figure of 85%).This training includes:

  • Fork Lift Truck training;
  • Health and Safety;
  • Manual handling;
  • Machine-related training, including induction and operation; and
  • On-the-job training and knowledge transfer.

On-the-job training was seen as very important, and respondents suggested that this goes beyond procedural training:

“Each employee receives a minimum 40 hours per year classroom, online and hands-on training”

“The main training that is given is to develop creativity and imagination and artistry”

Almost a quarter (23%) of advanced manufacturingsector companies have a dedicated training budget, compared to 28% all-sectors figure).

Views on the current supply and quality of recruits

80% of the advanced manufacturingcompanies we surveyed felt that the current supply and quantity of recruits met their business needs. The satisfaction rate across all-sectors was 77%.

Supplementary comments indicate thatthe quantity of potential recruits is good but the quality is variable. There is a perception that the quality of jobseekers is lower than it used to be, and that a proportion of recruits now have a lack of work experience, variable work ethic, and low skill levels. Two respondents mentioned that they had a 50% to 90% success rate for new recruits. Also mentioned was that it can be difficult to recruit for specific skillsets, such as drivers, but that using a training provider or recruitment agency allows for better matchingof candidates to vacancies.


Does sector face specific skills shortages in GM which are not faced elsewhere?

19% ofadvanced manufacturingsector respondents to the survey said that their sector faced specific skills shortages within GM which were not seen elsewhere in the UK.These skills gaps are mostly related to a reported lack of specialist skills, as mentioned in the previous question. Of the 19% who answering yes, respondents mentioned a lack of specific engineering skills, including electrical engineering, engineers in the machine build sector, skilled machine operators and individuals with knowledge and experience of welding and electrical work. One respondent mentioned that there is a lack of technically skilled people with design experience.

Across all-sectors those responding yes to this question was 26%.

Comments relating to the employability and work-readiness of young people applying to work in the sector

Most comments on this topic were focused around difficulties relating to apprentices’ attitude to work and their lack of readiness or preparedness to be in the workplace, includingrelated issues around work ethic. This can result in a lack of discipline related to attendance records and motivation.

“[We have] had a number of apprentices, [and] have experienced difficulties relating to attitude to work i.e. more sickness days taken in comparison to other employees.”

More positively, one respondent discussed their experience with applicants being highly committed to undertake an apprenticeship.

The more sector specific responses to this question discussed in more depth the perceived lack of readiness in younger apprentices, with one respondent suggesting that a term-time Saturday scheme would be better in mutually assessing suitability, rather than taking a school leaver with no relevant experience.

Are apprenticeships suited to the sector?

Respondents’overwhelming view (93% compared to84% across all-sectors) was that apprenticeships are suited to the advanced manufacturingsector.

Advanced manufacturingbusinesses (both those already taking apprentices and those thinking about whether they should) regard apprenticeships as beneficial in terms of addressing a shortage of skills in the sector, a good opportunity to bring back skills that are missing, and training employees for the future. Another respondent noted that apprenticeships give businesses a chance to assess the quality of a candidate and train them to a suitable standard before employing them fully:

“If we start with the right person, they can be developed and help the business”

Could the sector offer work experience opportunities

69% of advanced manufacturingsector companies answered yes to this question compared to 70% across all sectors. For those companies that said they already offered work experience opportunities, comments included positive views on past experiences where young people have been given placements that would allow the company to evaluate the individual, offering them an apprenticeship if suitable, or offering the experience to help the individual find work elsewhere if it didn’t work out. In terms of barriers to offering work experience opportunities, one respondent mentioned health and safety restrictions; three others noted that younger work experience individuals may be more suited to an office environment.

“We could offer short-term work experience within our business, where candidates would shadow a current employee”

“Significant training is required prior to allowing individuals to work on the shopfloor, this is not conducive to short term placements”

Does the sector get enough support from training providers to grow and expand?

Three-quarters of advanced manufacturingsector respondents said that they felt that training providers gave enough support to help their company grow and expand, primarily by offering recruitment services and support, as well as through gaining more knowledge of the business’ specific needs. The all-sectors figure was 70%.

Amongst the quarter of companies who felt more support could be offered, a common complaint was that funded training was only available for low/no skill staff when often companies want to further develop staff who already possess a degree of learning. These companies were also critical of courses which were output-focused (e.g. attend a set number of training days) as opposed to outcome-focused:

“Current NVQs are a waste of time. They give a qualification to people for just doing the job they do not teach them how to do it using best practice.”


Essential or mandatory training for staff working in this sector

There was a broad consensus across responses, with several qualifications and training being mentioned a number of times:

  • Fork Lift Truck training (21 mentions);
  • First aid, health and safety (10);
  • Driving licence, including Heavy Good Vehicles (7);
  • Basic mathematics and English (25); and
  • PASMA (scaffolding) (2).

Training that is most valued by businesses in this sector

The training mentioned as of most value to the sector was mechanics and engineering, including electrical, welding and fabrication, with 26 respondents mentioning these, ranging from a minimum of Level 2 mechanics up to degree level. Lesser-mentioned courses included IT training, from basic to specialist such as CAD CAM knowledge (4 mentions). Sales and customer-based skills were also mentioned (2).

Views on whether the skills required to work in the sector will change and what will drive this change

Advanced manufacturing companies regard technological changes as likely to have the biggest impact on future skills needs. Next most important in the survey was economic changes, which could include market conditions and economic downturn, at 32% of respondents. Environmental changes were regarded as next most important at 28%, with social and political changes joint last with 20% each.

The sector’s sensitivity to technological changes was repeated in the other sectors we surveyed but these other sectors felt that the impact of technological changes upon their skills needs would be greater. Indeed, compared to the other sectors, Advanced Manufacturing companies were generally less concerned with how future political, environmental, economic, social developments would affect their skills needs.


The survey reveals a sector with a large number of medium-sized, independent companies. A majority of these companies provide in-house training but compared to the other sectors we surveyed the Advanced Manufacturing sector is less likely to train staff in-house and more likely to rely on external training providers. The training service provided to the sector is well regarded.

Much of the training required and undertaken by the sector is similar to that required in the construction industry. To these requirements,a smaller number of AdvancedManufacturingbusinesses add the need for staff to possess technical/computing skills. Across most skill sets the sector feels that it is not facing any shortage of potential recruits, although the general work readiness and attitude of younger potential recruits is open to question. One area where there does appear to be a GM-specific skills shortage is the supply of workers who have been trained in the electrical trades.

The sector strongly support apprenticeships, work placements, and greater cooperation between training providers, recruitment agencies and the employer during recruitment processes as methods for overcoming the lack of work readiness amongst younger potential recruits.

Appendix A: Copy of employer survey questionnaire



The Greater Manchester Skills and Employment Partnershiphas been established by the GM Combined Authority and Local Enterprise Partnership with the aim to maximise the contribution that skills training makes to Greater Manchester’s economy.

Key to achieving this is understanding the skills needs of the priority sectors which drive Greater Manchester’s economy. These priority sectors are:

  • Financial and professional services
  • Digital
  • Creative industries
  • Advanced manufacturing
  • Education
  • Health and social care
  • Logistics
  • Retail
  • Hospitality & tourism
  • Construction

On behalf of the Partnership, the GM Learning Provider Network is undertaking consultations with businesses to understand which issues employerssee as being crucial to the future growth and success of their sector in Greater Manchester.

This input will be used to inform:

  • the development of education and training providers’ curriculums so that they better meet the needs of business; and
  • Greater Manchester’s future skills policy and business support offer.

All responses will be treated as confidential and findings will be presented to in a way to ensure that it is not possible to identify individual respondents in the final analysis.If you would like any further information on this piece of work please email Sharon Kelly, Strategy and Partnership Manager at the GM Skills and Employment Partnership on r phone 0161 237 4256.





Priority Sector / % of your business / Priority Sector / % of your business
Financial and professional services / Health and social care
Digital / Logistics
Creative industries / Retail
Advanced manufacturing / Hospitality & tourism
Education / Construction



Number of employees at the site
Independent or part of a group?
Turnover of business/group
The main business activity carried out at the site


The Partnership wishes to understand employers’ views on the current supply of training to their business.

  1. Do you feel that your business is engaged with learning and training providers? [tick one box and fill in details if applicable]

Don’t know
If yes, what benefits do you see from this engagement? / If no, what are the barriers to engagement faced by your business?
  1. Do you engage with sector skills councils or skills academies? [tick one box and fill in details if applicable]

Don’t know
If yes, who have you worked with? / How have you worked with them?
  1. Do you carry out any training in house?

Don’t know
If yes, what types of training do you do?
  1. Does the current supply and quality of recruits to you business meet your expectations? [tick one box and fill in details if applicable]

Don’t know
If no, could you elaborate on where the main mismatch occurs? For example, specific skills, competencies, experiences etc.
  1. Do you feel that training providers are able to respond to your business skills needs?[tick one box and fill in details if applicable]

Don’t know
If no, why not?
  1. In your opinion, how can training providers better respond to your business needs? [write in details]


  1. Does your sector face specific skills shortages in GM which are not faced elsewhere?

Don’t know
If yes, what skills shortages? And compared to where?
  1. Do you have any comments relating to the employability and work-readiness of young people applying to work in your business sector? e.g. attitude to work; lack of confidence; lack of motivation; personal circumstances.[write in details]
  1. Do you see apprenticeships as suited to your business/sector?

Don’t know
Please explain your response
  1. Do you feel that your business could offer work experience opportunities to young people considering a career with your sector?

Don’t know
Please explain your response
  1. Do you feel businesses in your sector get enough support from training providers to grow and expand? E.g.: recruitment drives, re-training, up-skilling, leadership and management, etc…[tick one box and write in details]

Don’t know
If yes, what support do you particularly value?
If no, what further support could employers be offered?


  1. Are there any qualifications or licences that are essential or mandatory for staff to have in your type of business?
  1. Which other skills or qualifications do you most need for staff to possess within your business?
  1. What training do you most need or value in your business?

E.g. training topics, levels of training required etc.
  1. Do you foresee the need for staff to acquire new skills in the future as a result of changes within your sector?

Social (e.g. ageing population) changes -
Technological (e.g. broadband) changes -
Environmental (e.g. climate change) changes -
Economic (e.g. recession) changes -
Political (e.g. raising school leaving age) changes –
  1. Do you have any other comments you would like to make?
  1. Would a representative from your business be willing to attend a briefing session on the findings from this research?[If yes, please write down the name and contact details]

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